Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cancer to 10K

Eleanor Roosevelt said, "You must do the thing you think you cannot do." She also said, "Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!" Eleanor clearly knew a thing or two about a thing or two. So I took her advice last month.

It started with registering for a 10K. Not just any 10K, but the Marine Corps Marathon Historic 10K. Because who wouldn't want to pay perfectly good money and wake up unreasonably early to go run 6.2 miles? What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good hashtag, and #runwiththemarines just doesn't get any better. So I did it. Forget being my first post-treatment 10K, this was my first 10K ever! And if you guessed I'm already signed up for the MCM10K, well then you've been paying attention to this blog! 
They gave me a medal and everything! Okay...they gave everyone a medal.
For the next self-imposed challenge, I got by with a little help from my friends. Okay... a lot of help from my friends... and my family... and some all around wonderful people. You see, the American Cancer Society Relay for Life Eastern Prince William County Chapter needed a guest speaker for its Survivor Ceremony. And since I just so happen to have a little first hand knowledge on the subject, I thought, why the heck not? So I signed up, and I politely harassed all of you, and you helped me raise over $1,500 in just four short weeks. How freakin' awesome are you?!?
Don't I totally look like I know what I'm doing?
So there was rain and thunder and lightening... and the outdoor event was relocated indoors... and the ceremony was delayed, like, two hours. So there's no video. Which is probably a good thing. But Mom suggested (in only the way moms can) that I share my speech here. Well...if you've got nothing better to do on this fine Saturday evening...

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1.                Loretta Warrick: Lymphatic Cancer, 2003, age 77. James Suraci: Esophageal Cancer, 2006, age 47. Katherine Warrick: Breast Cancer, 2012, age 31. Erin Shea Travis: Breast Cancer, 2014, age 39.

Though these are but a few of the 1.6 million diagnosed with cancer every year, they are far, far greater than any statistic. You see, Loretta, she is my grandmother. And she just celebrated her 89th birthday. James? That’s my Uncle Jim. Today he’s watching his youngest graduate from Virginia Tech – Go Hokies! And my cousin Erin, she just finished chemo two weeks ago and is running her first post-diagnosis 5K today.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m Katherine. And I’m celebrating two and a half years cancer-free by running my first 10K tomorrow at the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon. But first, I’m celebrating all of those names I just mentioned. Because we’re not only family by blood, we’re a family touched by cancer. We, like everyone here today, are a family who has been repeatedly challenged by the adversity and despair this diagnosis can bring. We’ve responded with bravery, courage, hope…and a little fierceness. And, like you and all of the American Cancer Society, we will continue to step up with a spirit of courage and hope until the last fight is won.    

2.                This too shall pass.

One year ago this weekend, I stood in front of the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and received a Master of Social Work degree. This event was four years in the making. Two years prior to that momentous occasion, I received something a little different. Something I saw as a major stumbling block on the road to that Master’s. A diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, stage IIb. So as I stand here with you today, I’d like to share with you how I got here.

There’s a YouTube campaign called “Dear Me”. Through “Dear Me”, our older and wiser selves are encouraged to share a message of hope, inspiration, and all-around "don't worry, it gets better" and "trust me, your goth phase will pass" to our younger and less seasoned selves. In the spirit of “Dear Me”, I’ve written a message to my pre-cancer self. A message reminding her, this too shall pass.  

3.                Dear Katherine,

Remember that really short haircut you always wanted to try but never had the guts? Great news! You’re about to get your chance! Also, I feel like I should warn you, you're in for bumpy ride. But this too shall pass.

4.                You're about to be offered a new job. A job in which you'll go from helping a few hundred Service members and their families, to a couple hundred thousand. And you'll eagerly accept the challenge. What you won’t see coming, is getting the call for that job offer as you're sitting in a breast surgeon's exam room. Because you and your husband just found out you have cancer. Didn't see that one coming, did you? But this too shall pass.

5.                You're about to attend two beautiful weddings. The first at which you’ll wear an oversized necklace to hide the medi-port implanted just below your right clavicle 8 days earlier. Thank goodness for statement jewelry! And the second, you’ll postpone the start of chemo so you can be there in Las Vegas when your best friend gets married. You’ll dance with the bride to Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" like to two of you have done so many times before. You do see that coming. It's kinda your thing.

6.                What comes next is one long, hot summer. You'll start a blog. Your family and friends - and, thanks to the power of the internet, probably some random strangers - follow along as you irreverently create chemo playlists and chronicle the misadventures of cancer treatment. Because if there’s one thing the chemo suite needs, it’s a little irreverence and an upbeat dance mix. You brothers will offer up suggestions like “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and “Hang Tough”. Your husband will add Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” to the list. And, of course, there’s “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Back in the Saddle”, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger”, “Won’t Back Down”, “I’m Still Standin’”…the list goes on. You’ll poke fun at the copious amounts of time you and your dogs spend watching awful reality TV, and the absurdity of 31 year old acne, fat feet,  and a puffy face - okay, puffy everything - from the chemo and all the drugs they give you to make the chemo less ... chemo-ish. The family who runs the nearby Dairy Queen will know your order. Let's just call that the summer of the chocolate-covered-cherry blizzard. And, three years later, though your patronage is much fewer and farther between, they will still recognize you warmly.

7.                And, you will take leave from your graduate program. Just for the Summer, at first. You'll tell yourself you'll be ready to go back in the Fall. Chemo will be wrapping up a few weeks after the Fall semester starts. And then you'll have all that time off recovering from surgery. What's a few graduate classes to add to the mix? Right? Wrong! So you take the Fall off, too. But don’t worry, this too shall pass. You’ll make up the time and you’ll graduate with that Master’s degree!

8.                For a few months, you’ll take full membership into the cancer club. You’ll join the “Young Women with Breast Cancer” support group through Life with Cancer at Inova Alexandria. You’ll raise funds for Living Beyond Breast Cancer with a morning of yoga at Freedom Plaza. Merry Maids of Woodbridge will clean from top-to-bottom for you on chemo days thanks to “Cleaning for a Reason”. You’ll have experiences and opportunities that would never be possible if not for the honor, courage, and commitment of everyone involved with the American Cancer Society. The “Look Good, Feel Better” program will show you how to rock a bald head with the best of ‘em. At the Redskins All-Star Survivor celebration, you’ll tour Redskins Park, have lunch with Chris Cooley, and talk with Alfred Morris about Tom’s shoes (he can never find them in his size) and how Chipotle truly is the best fast food ever.  You’ll walk onto the field at FedEx and notice how much smaller it looks than on TV. You’ll be interviewed by ABC News, WTOP, and the Chicago Tribune. You’ll be featured in the Baltimore Sun. Your picture will be viewed by over 4 million on the Stupid Cancer Facebook page. And later you’ll be featured as a Student Success Story at The Catholic University of America. But this too shall pass.

9.                And throughout it all, you will grieve. You won't know that you're grieving. Much less for whom or for what. But all five stages, they will be there present and eventually accounted for.

Denial. It will not be a river in Egypt. But you'll spend a lot of time there. "This isn't so bad, right? I mean, my boobs are trying to kill me. But hey, cancer-schmancer. A little chemo here, a little surgery there. Then we'll get back to normal."

Anger. You’ll start to see red with every pink ribbon. You’ll mock every pink-washed product and campaign you come across. You’ll resent the commercialism and industrialization of a disease killing hundreds of thousands of people a year in the U.S. And that new normal you keep hearing about? “You can keep your new normal, I liked my old one just fine.” But this too shall pass.

Bargaining. You’ll bargain with yourself. “Just let me get past this next treatment, next surgery, next milestone. Just let me graduate. Then we’ll be back to normal.”

Depression. You’ll wake up early on a Sunday morning and have a good cry during a “Keeping up with the Kardashians” marathon. That will be one of many WTF? moments. But this too shall pass.

Acceptance. You won’t know when or how, but acceptance will come. Pink ribbons won’t affect you like they did. While they’re still not for you, you accept and appreciate the sense of community and hope they provide so many. You’ll accept the fear. You’ll accept the triumph.

9.      And the message I have for my present-day self, and for everyone here today, is a message of acceptance, a message of courage, and a message of hope. It’s the courage to say “This too shall pass”. All of our loses and successes. All of our trials and victories. These all will pass. Aesop said, “It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.” No one here today has had that luxury. If you’re here right now, it’s because you have faced fear head-on and come out on the other side. You have “Look[ed] at hopelessness in the face and [said]: ‘We are simply not meant to be together.’ [You held the hand of courage] and walk[ed] away (Dodinsky). Because courage is not the absence of fear. It is knowing that something else is more important (Ambrose Redmoon). And what is more important today is that the American Cancer Society and everyone here continues to fight! Continues to relay! Continues to celebrate more birthdays! And continues until we finish the fight against cancer!
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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The no-so-terrible two's

Yesterday marked two years of Tamoxifen. The last of many "two's" which can only mean the beginning of many three's and four's and eventually the big FIVE. In October we celebrated a pretty big "two". Two years cancer free. And two years is big. The chances of that nasty "C" rearing its ugly head are still pretty good in those first two years. Must've learned its lesson the first time, 'cause it hasn't dared causing any more trouble. 

So what's the big deal with two years of Tamoxifen? For some couples, it means taking the next year Tamoxifen-free and growing their family. And for some that feels like too much of a risk. Not to mention that the miracle of modern science now says, "Hey! Ten years of Tamoxifen each day keeps the cancer away." Two years ago, the magic bullet was only five years. So we're 20% rather than 40% there. Kind of a bummer. And the cramps in my feet think so, too! 

But what's not-so-much a bummer, not actually a bummer at all, is in these last two plus years I've found myself a nifty new hobby. Thanks in-part to this very blog. You see, blogging all things cancer was a great excuse to also photograph all things cancer. Selfies in the chemo chair might seem borderline macabre...but not if you're going to blog about it. And keeping that camera handy was just super practical when it came to chemo brain. But after the treatments ended and the last of the surgeries healed, I wasn't ready to put down the camera. Not by a long shot. So, true to form, I've started a page for my photographs, too. Actually, several pages. They're all identical, so feel free to peruse the platform that suits you best. I'm working on a #project365 challenge (sharing a photo a day everyday in 2015) so feel free to check back often and keep me honest. 

On Tumblr...

www.tumblr.com/blog/imagesbykatherinewarrick


...Flickr

www.flickr.com/photos/imagesbykatherinewarrick


And of course
 www.facebook.com/imagesbykw

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Let's Do the Time Warp Again!

There's an app called Timehop all the cool kids on Facebook are using. I haven't tried it out yet. Because, let's face it... I'm not exactly what you'd call an early adopter. {Sorry marketing and business folks out there.} I mean, it took Apple three versions of the iPad before I considered giving it a whirl. And even after its awesomeness, five versions of the iPhone before I'd jump on the bandwagon. So I haven't actually experienced Timehop first-hand, but the gist of it seems to be the app chooses a Facebook post of yours from this exact day sometime in your history. The results are often hilariously out of context. Or strangely prophetic. That's part one of my inspiration for this post. 

Part two is considerably less whimsical...but equally Facebook related. Today I was reminded of a friend on Facebook who, like so many, kindly and graciously reached out to me during treatment. What was unique about the message from this highschool acquaintance was her mom was in the midst of the very same treatment for the very same diagnosis at the time. The reminder came to me today in the form of a post about her mother's recent passing. Ironically, it appeared in my feed immediately below a post of an article about Vinnie. {The real irony is that my feed has been scrubbed clean of most all cancer-related pages and groups...but one slips through every now and again.}

I refuse to say this friend's mom lost her battle, as that is one of the many, many cancer-isms I've come to barely tolerate.  While I appreciate its attempt to soften the blow - much kinder and gentler than hearing of someone who died from cancer - it suggests some sort of shortcoming or weakness or failure on the part of the diagnosed. Language in general is powerful. The language of cancer is complicated. And ill-fitting. Like wearing a shoe one-size too small. And on the wrong foot.

So while labels like survivor feel misplaced, other labels like graduate student have grown quite comfortable. But times they are a-changing. And that label has changed a bit, too. And while Timehop seems like it would make for a fun meander down memory lane, this - to me - feels much more like a  time warp. So put your hands on your hips...

  • On or about May 2nd 2012 I was just wrapping up with my old position, had had a marathon day of imaging-imaging-and-more-imaging, and we met with the medical oncologist for the first time.
This year I celebrated my last day ever of graduate school.
  • On or about May 10th two years ago I was just getting some good news back from the genetic counselor. And whining about how ouch-y my new mediport still was.
This year...I went to P.R.O.M.!
This year wasn't actually all that different. As I sat for - and passed! - the Licensed Graduate Social Worker exam.
And was published as a university student success story.
  • And last, but definitely not least, on or about May 17th 2012 we were in count down to chemo mode. This year...
...I finally made my way across that stage. Master's degree in hand!



     

Monday, May 12, 2014

Never Been Kissed

*Disclaimer: Graduation week is upon you. Be prepared for the mostly excited and only partly procrastinating nature of impending blog posts!

To briefly bring everyone up-to-speed, ALL of my MSW course work is finally finito! Actually has been for over a week. I know, I know! I'm as surprised as you are by the utter lack of blog posts composed in procrastination of actual, real writing. But somehow we made it happen y'all. 

Fear not, though. In true graduate student fashion, I'm taking the super-big-long-scary licensing exam tomorrow. Which, of course, is exactly why there's an absolute urgency to write to you all. 'Cause study breaks are an absolute must! And in honor of that, here are some highlights of what cancer-free (hey, this is still a cancer blog, isn't it?), post-grad school life looks like...

Last day of grad school ever...

...and celebratory drinks with some of my favorite MSWs!
Cornhole...
...fire pits...
...and (dinosaur) birthday cake with the best family and friends on the planet.

And P.R.O.M.
That's right. Full on, twenties- (and in my case, thirties-) somethings, Josie Grossie - Never Been Kissed, prom.
With my favorite prom date.
And pandas.
Because when your Mom says she wants to see the baby panda for Mother's Day...
 
...you make it happen! Kudos to Bao Bao and her tree-climbing skills. Can your 9 month-old do that???
Happy Mother's Day! Now get back to work!
 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I mentioned in my last post that our third wedding anniversary came and went in December. And that we did a little early celebrating because I had an amazing opportunity to do some traveling. What I didn't mention was what sort of token of affection we chose to share with each other. 

Let me preface this by saying Rob is super thoughtful and wonderfully creative when it comes to gift-exchanging. He is seriously the most romantic person I know. I, on the other hand, only just remembered at about 4 o'clock today that it's been exactly 7 years since our first date. Fortunately, what I lack in romance he completely makes up for. And then some. 

But back to the gift exchanging. So this year rather than the traditional anniversary-type presents, we decided to gift each other a house project. I know, I know! It might as well be a new vacuum cleaner, right? Wrong! (Although I did get a new hardwood floor cleaner for Christmas. And I love the heck out of that thing.) You know that spot in your home where stuff and junk have the gravitational pull of the sun? It just collects there. And multiplies! For us it was the third bedroom. After two and a half years I fondly nicknamed it "Purgatory". Because 75% of the things in there were only on what would end up being a temporary layover on their way to Goodwill. We'd bounced around several ideas of what to do with the room over the last couple years. Everything from a home gym to a massive walk-in closet. But this year we finally decided on its destiny. And I think we chose pretty wisely. But I'll let you be the judge...
 Whaddya think? This room (and that gray chair) has quickly taken up competition for favorite spot in the house. And it's only fitting that today - on the 7th anniversary of our first date - that we finally put the finishing pieces of this project into place. And, no, your eyes do not deceive you. That in fact is an empty diploma frame on the wall. But not empty for long!

Graduation in t-minus 40 days!


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

So...I guess it's been a minute


But in my defense, I did climb a frickin' volcano. 

Y'all are just going to have to take my word for it that no news is absolutely, positively good news. And by good news I mean, either our days are so filled with new and exciting adventures that I never find the time to sit and write about them. Or, the life a cancer-ass-kicking-grad-student is so full of the mundane that honestly I think I just fell asleep in the middle of that sentence. Either way. The last six week-ish have been a little bit of A... and a little bit of B.

Weeeee...skated our way through my 33rd birthday.
Celebrated Round 1 of Christmas with these fine folks. Whaddyou lookin' at, kid?
And Christmas: Part Deux with All. These. People. Who are these people? And why are there so many of them???
Our 3rd wedding anniversary was a little bit country, a little rock'n'roll, and about 4 days early. Why? you ask. Because on our actual anniversary, I was here...

...studying abroad with the University of Virginia...
...and ringing in the New Year with my favorite UVA nurses.
We studied emergency management and disaster response. And I promise you, it was purely educational.
Really, really educational when we climbed this.
And this.
To get here.
Where is "here"? you ask. Here is 4,000 feet above sea level at the top of Mount Liamuiga. Oh, you read that right. That's a frickin' volcano. And in honor of World Cancer Day today, how's that for telling cancer to suck it?!?

To check out the rest of my disaster preparing, beach going, volcano climbing adventures...
click HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Little Vinnies: Part II

A few months ago as I was getting ready for nipple reconstruction surgery, I started to mention a little something about nipple tattooing. Short story is, there's this interesting gent outside Baltimore who started tattooing while in the Army. One morning, he woke up and said to himself, "Self, what you need to do is tattoo nipples back on to ladies who don't have them no more." I'm not sure if that's exactly how the conversation went. But I feel like I'm not that far off. For the slightly longer story, try this ABC news segment from about a month ago.
Being all world-renowned and what-not, Vinnie books up fast. So when I called in early August to schedule with him, today was the first slot he had available. For anyone curious, his shop looks exactly like any other tattoo parlor I've ever been in. No, wait. This one had a pool table in the middle of the lobby area. And it was a lot cleaner. None-the-less, it was in a tiny strip-mall. Sandwiched between a veterinary office and a beer-alcohol-wine-tobacco shop.
Ahh...Maryland.
Vinnie explaining tattoo after-care procedures. Photo expertly cropped by Rob. (Yes, yes those *are* shark teeth in the background.)
And a post-tattoo photo with the artist himself.