Statistics show that one in eight women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetime … Wednesday, October 11, 2017, happened to be my day. At 41 years old, those three little words “you have cancer,” set me down a path I never planned on traveling. As a wife and mother to three wonderful (and active) kids, how do you fit a cancer diagnosis into your schedule?!?! 16 rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries, 30 radiation treatments followed by eight more rounds of oral chemo … ain’t nobody got time for that! As I sit here and reflect on the past 17 months, I’m overwhelmed with emotions. This experience has been trying, exhausting at times, but most of all, rewarding.
Finding out you have breast cancer (or any cancer) is a game changer. It can take you to a really dark place, very quickly, if you let it. I’m a firm believer that attitude is everything and, more importantly, that it’s a choice! That the attitude you bring to whatever it is you happen to be facing, impacts your outcome. Not to say that attitude is the difference between beating cancer or not, but it certainly makes a difference in LIVING with it. And the goal here is to continue to see and enjoy the rainbows in the midst of the storm.
Each one of us has a different take on what success looks like when it comes to living with cancer. What it looks like for me is having a positive attitude, being fully transparent in sharing my story and finding the humor in this crap deal.
… creating small milestones and checking off each one, one treatment, one appointment, one day at a time.
… making it through each chemo without barfing … #winning!
… making it to as many of my kids’ functions and activities as possible.
… not missing out on life’s moments.
… rocking the pixie cut I’ve always wanted to try but never had the guts to do.
… seeing just how loved you are by your family and friends.
… receiving an email from a co-worker sharing that they’ve emulated your transparency and vulnerability to include others during their own recent medical journey and it turned out to be critical to their success.
… one of your kid’s friends feeling so comfortable around you that when they say “Mrs. Dean, I’ve always wanted to rub a bald head, can I rub yours?”, you absolutely let them!
One thing I wasn’t expecting on this journey is the overwhelming sense of community that goes along with a cancer diagnosis. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is very much like being inducted into a sorority you never intended on pledging! You’re immediately grouped in with a bunch of women (and some men), that you instantly have something in common with, but know nothing about. Let me tell you, they are the nicest, most caring group of people you wish you’d never met … at least not under these circumstances. A community of “thrivers” all traveling a similar path, bonded by the pink ribbon, all with the common goal of learning to live with their new normal.
Speaking of pink, it’s interesting how a color can bring a community of people together to rally around a common cause. There have been too many connections made for me to ignore the “Power of Purple.” Growing up, my school colors were purple and white. In the community I currently live in, the school colors are purple and gold. Over the years, I’ve worn a lot of purple in support of these communities that have played such an important role in my life. And now, I also wear purple in support of Van Andel Institute’s (VAI) Purple Community.
Prior to my diagnosis, I’d been a regular attendee of VAI’s Couture for a Cure and a supporter of the Duncan Lake Middle School (DLMS) Cancer walk. Since my diagnosis, Purple Community has meant more to me than I had ever imagined it would.
It started with the students of DLMS asking me to help them kick off their fundraising efforts last year to support pediatric cancer research, which led to being chosen as the “Featured Fighter” for the Bee Brave 5K.
It’s an honor to represent VAI’s Purple Community once again at their 8th annual Grand Rapids Griffins Game! I’m grateful for the continued opportunity to share my experience in living with cancer and the high level of respect and appreciation I have for what VAI is doing to be at the forefront of a cure. Your support in this fight along with the power of Purple Community helps make life changing research possible! And for that, I am truly grateful.
– Erin Dean, 2019 Purple Community Night Puck Drop Honoree