Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Dear Cancer-

People don’t typically miss you. I've tossed a thought around for about a week, and finally came to a conclusion this morning in my local coffee shop.  The shop was swimming with people; all wrapped up in their D.C. lives. I wondered how many of them have dealt with you. How many killed you, cried over you or laughed through you. And then, the thought swept through my head again..."I miss cancer."

As my best friend would say, "WTF, Candice?!"  I know, it's actually insane and crazy to miss you.  Why would someone ever miss the intense fear that comes with you? Why would anyone miss being sick, or littered with medications?  Every time I thought it, I shook my head in disgust at where my brain was going. And then this morning, it came to me.

I don't miss you, specifically. I miss the powerful adrenaline that comes with fighting something. I miss the intense, overwhelming thrill of putting every fiber of my being towards accomplishing something. I miss the drive to live against a threat I can't control. For a year of my life when I opened my eyes, I pushed towards defeating you. For a year of my life when I walked down the street, I made fun of you in my mind. For a year of my life, I showed others what it's like to live through you. It was the most empowering experience of my existence, and I miss it.

So, WTF! I don't miss you. I'm now ADDICTED to what comes from conquering you.

Wuv you-

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don't let faces freak you out.

Dear Cancer-

Facial expressions in response to you are comical. Last night, I was explaining my next surgery to a curious Public Affairs colleague. She thought I already had boobs. I saw all the typical facial expressions in a five minute period. The, I’m so sad for you face. This is gross face. I’m happy it’s not me face. I have no idea what to say face. I’m uncomfortable face. I’ll just pretend cancer doesn’t exist face. And finally, I’m proud to know you face.  After thousands of these conversations, I’m used to the rollercoaster of emotions people go through when talking to me. Even doctors and nurses do it when I’m new to a clinic. “Wait a second, you had breast cancer? But, you’re so young (Insert perplexed look here).”  No shit Sherlock, my story isn’t the norm, but is still happened. I just smile, and agree. Sometimes, I have fun with it and say, “My parents always told me I was an old soul, guess it finally caught up with me.” Or, “I really just like pink so I joined the club.”

I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter what ends up on faces. What matters is people walk away with a story that is true.  Hopefully they walk away, educated about you.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting back on the train...

Dear Cancer-

So there’s this train I’ve been on my entire life.  I think it started down the tracks with my parents mandating I “play outside.”  I threw some coals in the engine with track, field hockey and lacrosse through college. An old friend, Angie, pointed out something interesting when she looked at a high school field hockey photo. One in eight women will get breast cancer in their life. There are eight young women in the photo, and I happened to be that one who "took one for the team."  Through the military, the train just got faster as I discovered triathlons, Alaska sports and racing. I was in the best shape of my life right before I found out about you.  I was the epitome of strong.  I remember doing push-ups with my best friend’s little girl on my back, and pumping my body full of good protein multiple times a day.  At the time, it was all in an effort to look awesome for when Ryan returned from Afghanistan.  It’s ironic how everything happens for a reason.  If it wasn’t for gaining muscle and being in shape, chemo would’ve crushed me.  I didn’t eat a lot, and it was extremely difficult to find energy to maintain muscle mass. I lost 20 pounds, 3 pants sizes, and got tired walking up stairs in six months.

Today is day two of my new running program. I’m running a marathon in my 30th year. I figured the year I beat you, I might as well do something else crazy hard. So here I am, jumping back on the train from the platform. Only this time, I respect my body so much more.

Whoot, Whoot!!

Denise Burnham, Megan Issac and me Nov. 8, 2011
My work out buddies who motivated me to simply just...start.
PV Seniors 1999
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hair is just an accessory...

Dear Cancer-

Two weeks after my last Chemo in March, I went to Cleveland, Ohio. I was finally allowed to fly, and not worry about blood clots from meds. Now, I got looks before while sporting a bald head, but apparently people that frequent airports don’t see women without hair.  After getting a bit annoyed at the looks, I threw on my 1920’s Jean Harlow hat, and went to the bathroom.  I took one look at myself, and laughed. No hair, eyebrows, or lashes, isn’t exactly normal.  So what goes best with no hair?  Crazy red lip stick of course! When my friend Anna picked me up, her little girl Stella said, “Miss Candice, you’re bald headed like my Daddy! I like your lip stick.”    

This week, I got my first haircut since my hair has returned. I hoped in the car, looked in the mirror, and laughed again.  My memory went back to the airport bathroom.  Only this time I saw hair, brows and lashes. Hair is truly, just an accessory.


No hair any where...

My first hair cut...

Monday, November 7, 2011

A four-year-old little girl...

Dear Cancer-

So, this morning I grab a Monday morning latte. I’m in line in my uniform. A four-year-old girl is staring at me. I smile. She smiles. I say, “Hi sweetie.” She says, “Hi.” After another minute of staring, she points to my keychain and says, “I like pink.” After thanking her, she asks why it’s “that funny shape.” As her mom listened, I told her it’s a pink ribbon that stands for helping people with a bad sickness.  She said, “Oh, like when I have coughs and sneezes?”  Her mom and I giggled. I told her it was really bad, like the worst coughs and sneezes she’d ever have. I went on to say, I was trying to tell everyone about this bad sickness called breast cancer, so we can make it go away. She said, “Mommy, can I have a pink ribbon.”

I gave her my tiny pink ribbon, and told her to keep it safe.   

So here’s the deal buddy, by the time she reaches her mid-twenties she’s not going to worry about you taking her breasts. By then, we’ll have you beat. I can’t think of a better way to start my week.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pink Shit

Dear Cancer-

One of the most beautiful images I’ve seen is the sun setting behind the Alaska snow capped mountains.  Driving home was like driving into a painting every day. It’s funny, but that’s when I learned to love pink.  It looked like God put the mountains to bed every night with a fluffy pink blanket.  The other day I heard a woman say, “I’m sick of this pink shit,” in response to pink ribbons during October. I just smiled. Yes, sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming with a pink ribbon on every product you buy lately, but at the same time, is that really something to be upset about? Pink doesn’t only remind me of Alaska Mountains, Molly Ringwald 80’s movies, or baby girls. It reminds me of an extraordinary group of women raising awareness of you. So, I’ll continue to smile when I see pink ribbons, and I’ll even sport some obnoxious pink outfits from time to time. “Pink shit,” is nothing to get upset about.

Pretty in Pink-

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Rage

Dear Cancer-

Dylan Thomas wrote, "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light."  My friend Megan reminded me of this poignant poem yesterday. There are all kinds of ways we "rage" against or for things in this life. I just so happened to rage against you. In a continuous fit of rebellion, I permanently marked my body with a tiny pink ribbon tattoo. It's simple. It's forever. It's totally me. I found, it's just part of my "rage" toward your destruction. At first, I was horrified at scars and marks involving you. It made me sick to my stomach when I thought about not being able to look at myself without judgment again. Well, I got over that. My scars are a different kind of beautiful. They certainly scream “I’m alive.” At some level, adding a mark of my choosing shows the beauty that’s came from you.

Continuing to “rage”

Monday, October 31, 2011

Worry and waiting...

Dear Cancer-
With you comes worry and waiting. Worry--What's that weird pain in my side? Well, I've had a headache for three days now, should I call my oncologist? My intestines are jacked up again, hope this diarrhea doesn't last much longer. What if I don't catch it early enough next time? Waiting--1 week to see if you've spread, 20 weeks of chemo to see if you've shrunk, only 2 days till I loose my breasts, 2 months for the stupid genetics test, 3 days till blood work results, 1 week till scan results put me in the clear, 6 months till implants, 6 more for nipples.  Worry and waiting have become easier to deal with, the longer I've had you. In the beginning, it enveloped my thoughts and actions. I put off eating, because I was worried.  I couldn't sleep, because I was waiting. I didn't smile, because I was worried. And, I cried because I was waiting.

After about two weeks of that I had enough. I was having this back and forth dialogue with you, and I almost exploded. I yelled out loud, "STOP, CANDICE! YOU'RE INSANE." Then, I laughed. I laughed out loud for about a minute at how crazy I was. I was giving you all the control. Control you didn't deserve, and control I'd be able to beat with you with, once I took it back. So, here's what I did...

I put on these fantastic pink shoes with my sweat pants. I grabbed my funky yellow purse, and I went to the mall by myself. I swung by Starbucks, told the barista a joke, and sipped my caramel moch as I drove. I blasted, "Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I've ever known. Like a drifter I was born to walk alone. And, I made up my mind, I ain't waistin no my time. Here I go again," singing my face off. I did a little retail therapy, buying my first frilly headband in preparation for a bald head. And finally, I called my friend Lisa and made dinner plans. We laughed, and made one rule, no talking about you for 1 hour.

I can control worry and waiting. Not you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy 1 year anniversary cancer!

Dear Cancer- I had just called requesting paperwork to separate from the Air Force. Ryan and I were about to embark on a new journey. He was going to keep flying, and I was leaping to civilian life. We were planning a wedding, buying a house and planning European travels. I can’t remember what I worried about that morning. All I know is life as I knew it ended in a single second. At 2:32 p.m. my phon...e rang at work. Dr. Amy Vertrees’ unsure tone confirmed the worst, and I knew. She said, “Candice, it’s not what we wanted.” She didn’t say your name.

The only thing keeping my feet on the ground was her calm words. Amongst the words, ‘chemotherapy,’ ‘mastectomy’ and ‘radiation,’ she said ‘life,’ ‘babies’ and ‘future.’ More importantly, she said, “Candice, we’ll get through this, together.” I now understand what it feels like to literally have the world stop. Things moved slowly, except my body convulsed with shakes. I broke out in an instant sweat, and then chocked back vomit. I got through the next few days with family and friends telling me I was going to be okay every two minutes. Ryan and I were separated by an ocean at the time. When I told him, he said, “I’m going to love you even if you don’t have hair and if you don’t have boobs.” I said, “Well, that’s going to happen,” and we laughed.

I went back to being an infant, unable to be without my parents, or function on my own. Worst then diagnosis day was clinic day. My dad and I sat for eight hours meeting every doctor; breast surgeon, therapist, oncologist, fertility specialist, radiologist, genetics doc, multiple nurses, and my plastic surgeon. Both our worlds stopped again when my oncologist told me I had triple negative breast cancer. He explained only 10% of breast cancer patients are triple negative, chemotherapy sometimes doesn’t work, recurrence is high, and there aren’t any additional therapies at this time. My dad caught my arm as I almost fell off the exam table. I can’t imagine what that was like for my dad. I looked at him with a face covered in tears and he said, “Chemo will work, babes.” I called my best friend Crystal that night and lost it. I cried, yelled, spit words of pity and asked her, “What if I don’t make it?” After taking a breath, she yelled right back at me through tears. She said, “I never want to hear that come out of your mouth again, Candice.”

Two days later, I went for my first ultrasound and scan to get a grasp on if you spread through my body. I couldn’t imagine a worst situation, and I was mad at God. Why was this happening to me? My mom and I turned the corner at Walter Reed Army Medical Center towards the scan room, and we saw a soldier in his early twenties holding his baby girl. He was holding her with his only remaining limb. With a big smile on his face he greeted us as his wife pushed his wheelchair down the hall. Cancer, that’s when my world changed again to life as I know it today.

Life throws all kinds of things our way, but it’s what we do with challenges that build character. Shitty things happen, end of story. There are no explanations for why. At the end of the day, we make our life what we want. Perspective is a gift we should cherish. You changed my perspective on my life. I spent the next months slowly grasping the road ahead, and finding my way through the fog. I dealt with each thing you brought my way, and eventually found beauty. Beauty means something so different now. The most beautiful women I’ve met in my life, I met because of you. My breast cancer sister survivors epitomize beauty. I beat you the only way I know how. I put on a smile, made fun of you, and danced in kick-ass shoes through the past 12 months.

I wish I could articulate how I see life now, even as I stare out this window on an impeccable fall day; I struggle to find a way to explain my sated life. It’s been a year and the women who dealt with you before me were all right. I’ve found a strength I never knew I was capable of.

Pink Kisses, cancer. It’s our one year anniversary.