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C Is for Challenge

We first profiled Robin Cordry in October 2008. In celebration of her milestones, and the milestones of more than 100,000 breast cancer survivors nationwide, DallasChild joins Komen Dallas in the effort to raise awareness for breast health education and breast cancer screening, treatment and support. We’re happy to share with you, our readers … a letter from Robin.

Dear mothers and daughters,
Most of the globe divides time into two eras: B.C. and A.D. My life is divided into B.C. and C—there is no “after” with cancer. Once it makes its unsolicited entrance into your life, its mark may fade, but it won’t disappear.

Sometime around the dividing line between my two eras, I unwittingly tuned into two broadcasts that would help direct my life with cancer.

On February 13, 2005—like millions of people—I was mesmerized by the vision of Melissa Etheridge at the 47th Grammy Awards. Her performance, a tribute to Janis Joplin, was breathtaking. Melissa was vibrant, feminine, magnetic … and unbelievably bald—bald and beautiful. Her energy was infectious.

Five weeks later, I found a lump in my left breast … that same day I learned I was pregnant. I was home recovering from my mastectomy when I heard what was to be Peter Jennings’ final broadcast. In a raspy voice, Jennings announced, “Ten million Americans are living with cancer—and living is the key word.” It sounded strong, loud, vibrant, and somehow I wrapped his words around me as you would cover yourself with a blanket to protect yourself from an evening chill. It was my mantle. …

The Not So Exclusive ‘C’ Club

Getting my executive membership to the “C” club was not on my bucket list—at 40, I didn’t even have a bucket list. What I had was a loving husband (Pat) and a 5-year-old daughter who taught me more about love than anything I had experienced before. I wanted to be the only mother she would know. I wanted to hold her hand as we walked into her first day of kindergarten. I had to be on the bleachers when she won her first competition. I needed to hug her when her heart was broken. I had to teach her how to be a kind and gentle person with a love for life and the Lord.

Then along comes this miracle, Connor Luke. We had been trying for baby No. 2 and had miscarried months before. Finding a lump and learning I was pregnant—both on the same day—was surreal. Then to learn the lump was cancerous … life and death in the same hand.

One doctor bluntly explained that I was suicidal if I did not abort, because the cancer was aggressive and I needed to start chemo immediately. I didn’t want to die, but to end this pregnancy was unbearable. So I chose my life and the life of the baby.

By God’s grace, Connor Luke survived the surgeries and the chemo I endured while I carried him. His arrival was greeted by everyone as a victory and the end of a tough battle. We threw a huge celebration, foolishly believing that we were returning to normal. I had not yet realized that the only choice was to redefine “normal.” There is no going back to normal. In fact, new scans revealed a sizable tumor on my ovaries and the consensus of doctors was that it had to come out. The surgery was scheduled 10 days out. For 10 days my dreams and fears spun around in my head like a tornado. And I could only grasp one thought. If I have to say good-bye to Rachel and Connor before I am ready, I want to be able to look them in the eyes and say I’ve done everything. And I wanted to use my time on this earth to be a fighter in the battle to eradicate breast cancer from the world.    

My New Normal
In 2006, for the Early Childhood PTA, and in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I shared the podium with Kim Harlow, mom to 4-year-old Madeline and stage IV survivor of inflammatory breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease.

Kim and I shared war stories about treatment and surgeries. We told each other how great each other’s hair looked (even if it was only an inch long and splotchy at best). We shared our daughters’ milestones and all their amazing glory. But we did not share destinies.

It is horribly unfair to say that Kim’s reality was my nightmare. She knew the odds were not in her favor and she wore her fate with grace. Her treatment plans were scheduled around vacations. She attended Longhorn games, took Madeline skating under the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, went on a cruise. … She created memories with her little girl and gave her every bit of “mom” she could. Before she started kindergarten, Madeline could swim like a fish, read like a third grader and had experiences that some of us still dream about. Most importantly, Madeline knew her mom loved her.

During the opening statement of our presentation to the PTA, I confessed, “I never did self exams. I knew I should do them. I simply chose not to.”

I challenged the crowd: “How many of you perform regular breast self exams?” The show of hands was dismal.

One year later, I was back at the October ECPTA meeting and I asked for another show of hands. There was a complete turn around.

Unfortunately Kim was not there to witness the change. She had been shifted from one drug regimen to another in an effort to keep her cancer at bay. The latest chemo had helped diminish the pain and tests had shown that the cancer was not spreading. In stage IV cancer terms, this is a winning score. What no one knew was that her body had reached its limit. While the chemo may have been winning the battle with her cancer, it was destroying her organs. Kim checked into the hospital for the last time Wednesday, April 2, 2008.

A Major Milestone
March 22, 2010, I became a five-year survivor. There were no balloons or streamers. And I am a bit nervous about jinxing my good fortune. But there is a celebration in the making: A huge party! With thousands of people! On November 6, we will celebrate Connor Luke’s fifth birthday. Cupcakes will be passed out amongst the 6’ x 6’ pink pup tents where I will be camped out with Luke’s Lighthouse, the 3-day team named in my son’s honor. Thousands of other walkers and volunteers for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure will be camped out with us as well.

That very same day Madeline Harlow will be celebrating her eighth birthday. As she blows out the candles I’m certain Kim will blow her a kiss from Heaven.

For now, I am considered to be in remission. While I have no evident cancer and have had none for five years, the medical community won’t use the term “cured” for my disease.

Knowing that I had a history of cancer in my family, I could have been more diligent in modifying my lifestyle to reduce health risks. I can’t rid myself of the guilt … but I can live life differently from this day forward.

As though a coin were flipped, Kim is gone and I am here. I know she used her time on this earth wisely. So will I.