My Biggest Fear

In my family, cancer was something that people got when they were older, or at least that’s what I thought.

My grandfather, Grandpa Larry, battled acute leukemia for years and passed away at the young age of 54. I was nine when he passed away and of his dozen grandchildren, I am one of the only ones who was old enough to remember our wonderful Grandpa Larry. He battled leukemia by spending days and weeks receiving infusions at the hospital…testament to the outstanding progress that has been made to make treatments easier for cancer patients, however, out of a terrible necessity. I remember my Grandpa Larry growing his own wheat grass in a green house and juicing it daily. As a cancer diagnosis’ becomes one’s reality, our health and how to regain our health becomes our focus. Wheat grass is a known healer containing all minerals, vitamins A, B, C, E, I and K along with protein, chlorophyll and 17 amino acids. In my grandpa’s honor, wheat grass is a common food on my grocery list in which I add to my green smoothies.

For decades, cancer in our family was something grandparents battled. My Grandpa Dick and Grandma Lonny on my mom’s side both battled cancers and were able to regain their health. My Grandpa Dick passed away this year (2016) at the age of 85 but not from cancer!

In 2008, my dad was told he had pancreatic cancer at the young age of 48. I watched my dad fight for three years. He had more fight in him than anyone I’d ever known. He was a fighter pilot for the US Air Force until I was 9 when he had a seizure and found out he had a brain tumor. The doctors told him he had 6 months to live. He didn’t just live 6 months, he lived another 16 years! He was medically retired from the US Air Force and became a master in real estate and home remodels. 13 years after his brain tumor, he saw that he was developing jaundice and his skin and eyes were turning yellow. He went to the doctor and was told he had pancreatic cancer. He had a wipple procedure to remove as much of the cancer as possible. He went into remission just in time for my older sister’s dream wedding in Maui. Our family danced our hearts out. When the cancer came back, it came back with a vengeance, my dad passed away in 2011.

The most heart wrenching of all my cancer stories is of my beautiful sister, Jill. She wasn’t just a sister. She was the sister you dream of. She was my best friend. I’m a lot like her cause she was amazing and my whole life I wanted to be just like her! I could write a whole book about my sister…which I am doing…stay tuned for “Dear Ricah”. Jill, was diagnosed at the young age of 28 with breast cancer in November of 2010. In a blink of an eye her entire world, and ours, changed. She had just finished graduate school, started her career, married the man of her dreams and discovered she was bringing a baby girl into this world. Jill was seven months pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Imagine…seven months pregnant and hearing those three dreaded words, “You have cancer”. For three years, Jill struggled with many different kinds of chemo therapies, radiation, a double mastectomy and brought a beautiful, baby girl into this world. We watched her fight for her life while pregnant and while caring for a newborn baby who is now 6 years old. We all hoped this nightmare would be behind her. Tests to follow brought results which were hardly what we hoped, prayed and wished for…the breast cancer had spread. She was now Stage IV and battled cancer for the rest of her life. Jill passed away on October 14th, 2013 with dignity, surrounded by love and showing all who loved her the true meaning of life.

In 2016, I faced my biggest fear. Before Jill passed away she made me promise I would figure out how to be screened early for cancers. She didn’t think I would get cancer but she trusted that if I learned how to do it, I would help others in my family to get screened. It took me years to recognize, appreciate and overpower the fear inside me. After receiving genetics testing and genetics counseling, I was finally enrolled in the Reduce Your Risk program at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA). In February of 2016, I had my first screening at SCCA. My first meeting was with Heidi Trott where we discussed all the ways I can help to reduce my risk and received an MRI. I was warned that being young (29 years old) that I might receive a lot of false positives and be requested to undergo biopsies that in the end would not be breast cancer. My MRI came back clear. I was relieved and so was my family and friends. I went back for testing again in September. I received a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound, followed by a follow-up for three biopsies. The biopsies revealed that I had breast cancer…Stage 1 in the right breast and pre-cancerous or Stage 0 in the left breast. They re-examined the MRI from February and still see no signs of the cancer at that point. On September 21, 2016,  I was told I had cancer. My biggest fear became my reality.