About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day One

I've been pondering how to blog about my experience on the 3 Day. I knew right away that it deserved more than one post, because if I tried to do it in one post, it would be, as my kids would say, "epic." So I'll just start at the beginning and try to put into words my first day. But I warn you, words really fail to express what it was like. The unity, the camaraderie, the depth of feeling that permeated every step.

My team, "the Pink & Plaid Warriors" consisted of my mom, my friend Carylee, and myself. My dad was also on the team, as part of the crew. He was assigned to the tents and gear area and drove a gear truck between the opening ceremonies and the campsite.

Opening ceremonies were at the fairgrounds in Del Mar. Walkers were to arrive between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. As soon as we got there, mom and I dropped our duffel bags off at the truck labeled "F" which corresponded to our tent assignment of F-63.  I was amazed at how efficient the process was. From there, we followed the dozens of other walkers into the fairgrounds. It was a lively and fun atmosphere. Before we got all the way into the grounds, I ran into someone I met during the commercial shoot up in Hollywood. It was a crazy scene with literally thousands of people waiting to get started on the 60 mile trek, television trucks, loud music and funky costumes.

The opening ceremonies got us going. Crying, that is.  They were talking about who was walking and who they were walking for. They mentioned mothers and daughters, and of course, I started bawling. Not only becuase I was sharing it with my mom, but I thought of Isabelle and how I hoped she would be spared from this disease.  I also started thinking about how I wanted to be around for her growing up and how cancer was a threat to that. But here we were, thousands strong, united to do something about it. It was very moving.

Here are a few minutes of the opening ceremonies to give you a taste of what it was like:

We were ready to get moving after that. We had been told to go into a corral and those closest to the stage would be first on the route. Like good little girls, we did that. As it turned out, that wasn't the case. By the time we were out of the ceremony site, there were only a few dozen people behind us. But even as we filed out, we walked between rows of people cheering us on, giving us high-fives, and saying thank you. I saw one woman holding a sign that said, "Stage 3 and Kicking Cancer's Ass." That one got me, because last year, I was that woman. I saw her several times over the next couple of days. I was so touched by the outpouring of support and love by total strangers. One woman looked at us and reminded us to just stop mentally and take the moment. Remember it.

Day One was a mixture of fun and frustration.  The atmosphere and people were amazing. San Diego PD and San Jose PD officers rode bikes all along the route, sporting pink tutus or other silliness. Many had music players attached to their bikes that would bring us some tunes as we walked.  We got our first glimpse of the sweep vans, that patrolled the route all weekend to pick up weary or hurt walkers and take them to the next pit stop. They each had a theme. One was a hippie van. Mom liked that one because they played 60's era tunes. There was the "Titty taxi" and "Hookers for Hooters."  (Not so sure about the hooker part, but the women inside were funny and the music they blasted put a bounce in my step.). There were the hula girls who wore long t-shirts with a cartoon of a bikini. They would jump out of their van periodically with music blaring and dance. It was pretty funny to see the fake bikini images on the T-shirts shaking their booties.

All along the route, the public came out to cheer us on. I'm going to do a whole post about this aspect of it, because it was truly amazing.  This event brought out the best in everyone: the walkers, the crew, and the public. I'll talk more about this in a future post.

The frustration came because we felt like we were bringing up the rear,and we were!  Our late start put us behind. Even though we all knew it wasn't a "race" we still wanted to be at camp before dark so we could make sure our tents were set up, check out the vendors, and relax before dinner. I also got frustrated at having to wait at all the red lights. There were so many for the first 5 miles or so. I liked it much better when we hit Torrey Pines and were able to walk without interruption. My team and I had trained on hills, so we ended up passing a lot of walkers at that point.

By the time we got to lunch at La Jolla Shores, mom's cappillaritis had begun to flare up. She had this condition while training, especially in the heat.  She went off to the medical tent for some ice. Carylee was having trouble with her ankle, so she also went and got some treatment from the medical staff. The medical staff, by the way was amazing. At every pit stop, there was a medical tent with staff that were able to wrap legs, joints, and take care of whatever issues had arisen for the walkers.

The afternoon went by pretty slowly.  We were still getting used to the whole flow of the event. The sights, the sounds, and just the physical sensation of walking all day. We found ourselves around many of the same walkers most of the day. From time to time, a police officer would ride by with some music and we would all boogie down the road. There were also some awesome volunteer motorcyclists who helped us cross the streets. In one neighborhood in La Jolla, school kids had made signs that were attached to the trees to encourage us.  Many houses in the neighborhood set up tables and were giving goodies out to us. One table even had tequila shots!

20 down, 40 to go!
Dad met us about a mile outside of camp.  He had been waiting for us most of the afternoon. In fact, when we were at lunch, the first walkers were already coming into camp! He was an angel for us and set up our tent, blew up our air mattresses and encased the tent in plastic in case of rain. (The weather reports were threatening rain all week!)  He walked with us into camp where we were met by huge banners, music blaring, and a general party atmosphere.

Coming into camp, you walk through a path lined on both sides with supporters as well as flags that, if you think about it, really bring up some strong emotions. On one side, they would identify people who we were walking for: "My Mother," "My daughter," "My friend," "My sister," and so on.  There was even one that said, "My Self."  On the other side, they expressed traits and events, like "commitment," "love," "adventure," "graduations," "weddings," etc. Things that breast cancer has tried to rob from us. 

What struck me that first day, as well as the entire weekend, was that every single person out there had a story. Had a reason to be putting their bodies through such an extreme testing. It may have been a loved one lost. I saw plenty of shirts with smiling faces, or with names. There was even one team the "T.A.G. Team" that held a sign all 60 miles with the picture of their loved one lost to breast cancer. (Her initials were T.A.G.)  What impacted me about the sign that they held was that it had her birth and death dates. She was born on October 9, 1969.  Just a few weeks before me. And she had been gone for a few years already. Man, breast cancer sucks!

We had dinner at camp, and just tried to recover from the day. We were tired, but glad to have part of the journey behind us.  Mom and I took showers in the shower trucks and I tried to do some manual drainage on my arm. That didn't work too well since it was chilly and I didn't want to expose my skin to the cold air. I just put on my new velcro sleeve and hoped for the best. We went to bed pretty early, hoping to get some rest for the day ahead of us.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Like so many other holidays, dates, and anniversaries this year, I cannot help but compare it to a year ago. Not just reflecting on the differences in my life on those days, but all of the things that have happened since.

Last year, I still had one round of chemo to go. I was bald, but I was feeling pretty good. I was far enough into the 5th cycle that I was feeling somewhat like myself, although my taste buds were definitely off.  All things considered, it was a good Thanksgiving.

After Thanksgiving, I had my 6th round of chemo, developed a severe allergic reaction to the prophylactic Cipro, which in turn triggered my lifelong struggle with lymphedmea.  I also had yet to begin my radiation treatment. Considering how long chemo took, radiation seems like a blip on the screen.

Those are the bad things.  But a lot of good things have happened in the past year as well on the physical side that I am so thankful to God for.  My hair is growing back. It's past the stage where it is obvious that it is growing in from bald. People who don't know me would never know that I was bald a year ago.  In the past year, I've completed three 5k races as well as a 10k. I may not be the fastest runner out there, but my times aren't bad. Especially when I consider where I was a year ago.  I also just completed my first 3 Day, 60 mile walk.  That left my body tired, but satisfied that I was able to complete such a huge goal-I made it every single step!

I'm also thankful for the support of my family. They went through so much with me. They are co-survivors, and don't get the credit that they deserve for what they went through. I can't imagine how hard it had to have been to witness the whole mess I was. Mom and Dad not only supported me through the treatment, but they jumped into (or should I say, stepped into), the 3 Day experience with me. Mom spent countless hours training so she could do it. She battled seeping capillaries in her legs during training and during our walk. Dad slept in a truck last weekend and schlepped heavy bags of the walkers. He met mom and I every day and walked with us the last mile into camp. The three of us ended the 60 miles together, with tears in our eyes. Not just for the accomplishment of the 60 miles, but also of overcoming the struggles of the past year and a half.  Eric did a fabulous job of being a single parent for three days while I was walking. He hasn't even balked at the hints I find myself dropping about doing it all again next year!

Nancy, Sharon and me on Survivor's Hill
Marcy and me

I'm thankful to have met so many amazing and wonderful people in the past year. Fellow survivors have become new friends. It is such a deep bond that we share. Common experiences, common fears, and the common desire just to live and be healthy. I am thankful for all of my new survivor friends and look forward to a long friendship!

Of course, there are so many other things I am thankful for this year. I thank God for all of the blessings He has showered me with. I pray that He gives me the opportunity to use the experience of breast cancer to glorify Him and help other people in the process. I know He works all things together for good, cancer included.

Thank you for being a part of my life. I am grateful for your support and prayers as well.

Let's move forward and have a joyful holiday season. Don't let the little things get you down. Focus on the big picture and be happy.

Monday, November 21, 2011


This is what victory looks like. Here is my team, the Pink and Plaid Warriors. We made it all 60 miles, despite hurt joints, oozing capillaries, and potential blisters.

The event itself had a huge impact on me. I will do my best to convey it all over the next few blog posts. There is no way I could do it in just one post. I've got so many pictures, its going to be hard to choose which ones to post.

I'm grateful to God for giving us the strength to get through, my team for making the commitment to such a huge endeavor, my parents for jumping in and making it a priority for their lives, my donors for their financial support, and my prayer warriors for their intercession. Without all of you, this photo would not be possible.

Praise the Lord!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On your mark....

The day has nearly arrived! After signing up over 10 months ago, walking over 480 miles in training over 148 hours, it is the eve of my first 3 Day Walk. It is surreal, actually. After all the preparation to have the event finally here is like a "pinch me" moment.

We have had such amazing support from our friends and community.Yesterday, as I dropped Jean-Marc off at preschool, I was met with this sign that they kids and teachers made. I couldn't help but cry a bit at that. How sweet! When I went into the room, the teachers included me in their morning prayers and we prayed together. It was really nice. I hung the poster up in my garage as a reminder of how amazing people can be.

After that, mom and I went on our last training walk of the season. A little 5 miler just to keep the blood flowing. 

Toasting the end of training!

Am I ready? Physically, I'll admit that in some ways I don't feel like it. Maybe it's because we have tapered off on our mileage.  I know I can do it, though. It's funny how mental this can be. If I think about my left foot hurting, it starts to hurt!

I am really excited for the experience, though. The camaraderie that I've been a part of so far with this community has been amazing.  Last night, I woke up at 3 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep, I was so excited! It was like being a kid on Christmas Eve!

One question mark is the weather. Well, at least for some. I am convinced that it is NOT going to rain. Weather reports at the beginning of the week predicted rain all weekend. Then it started to change to say just Sunday. According to weather.com, there is a 20% chance on Sunday. That means an 80% chance of NO RAIN! If it does, we'll be ready. Mom and I did 10 miles in some pretty heavy rain a few weeks ago. We've got ponchos, extra socks, and plastic bags for our feet if it does. But we won't need them!

Besides mom and me, a friend of mine, Carylee Stone, is walking on our Pink & Plaid Warrior team. Besides being a great realtor, she's a graphic artist. She designed the coolest team shirts! I can't wait to wear mine and take some pictures to post on the blog. They are so pretty!  P&P is going to rock!

Carylee is going to be picking us up at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning. We have to be at the Del Mar Fairgrounds between 5 a.m. - 6 a.m. for opening ceremonies. I think we actually start walking around 7 a.m.

I'm nearly packed-I have a few more things to stow away. Everything needs to be wrapped in plastic in case the bag gets wet, and it can't weigh over 35 pounds! That's the challenge.

Please pray for us! Pray that our bodies hold up, that God would strengthen us for this journey. That we would be lifted up on wings like eagles, that we would walk and not grow weary!  Pray that my lymphedema stays under control. That GOD be glorified in our doing this.  Pray for Eric and the kids as they are alone without me this weekend.

If you are interested, you can follow along on our journey online on the Living Route.

Thank you for your prayers, your moral support, and your financial support. By the way, if you would like to support the Pink & Plaid Warriors with a tax-deductible donation, you can by clicking here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blowing up

I continue to struggle with my lymphedema. I'm fairly certain that the swelling is a result of my training for the 3 Day. Last week, I logged over 47 miles. Last weekend, I did my first "back to back" which consisted of 15 miles on Friday (in the rain) and then 18 on Saturday.

Everyone swells when they walk. Next time you walk for an hour or so, check out your hands-your fingers will probably be a little puffy. So part of it is normal. For me, the swelling isn't going down.

I'm not freaking out about it. I know how to handle it and what to do. Although I am swelling, I am doing all I can do to keep it under control. I'm actually enjoying the accomplishment of walking double digit distances, even if swelling is a byproduct of it.

I ordered a custom sleeve-a Circaid Juxta-Fit. It came in last Friday and I had been using it ever since. It is so easy! You just slide the sleeve on, and then wrap the criss crossing velcro straps around the arm. It takes about 2 minutes.  But my physical therapist warned me that it wasn't as effective as bandaging. It's a tough thing, because bandaging takes a long time. Not only putting it on, but rolling it back up to be ready for the next time. If you are pressed for time, or tired at night, the Juxta-Fit is better than nothing. I decided to order the sleeve because I didn't want to be messing around with rolling bandages during the 3 Day.

Maybe I'm not putting the Juxta-Fit on quite right. I probably need to schedule an appointment with my physical therapist to have her train me further on it.  I could probably benefit from her expert manual drainage massage as well.

Today I did 5 miles. After I showered, my hand and arm really seemed to be swollen. I took the time to do some manual drainage and then put on the bandages. I put some foam on the back of the hand and on the inside of my forearm and bandaged over it.  I've been wearing the bandages all day. Tonight, I'll do another manual drainage session and put the bandages on for the night. I plan on wearing them as close to 24 hours a day as I can for a few days and see what happens.

It is a real pain to be bandaged from my fingertips up my arm. Especially when you like to cook for your family and have everyday chores around the house to do.

Despite all of this, I really am excited about the walk. I didn't enjoy training at first. It still isn't as efficient as running, and I look forward to getting back to running later this month. But once I got over double digits, it really feels good.  It is amazing to think...I walked 18 miles today! Seriously? 18 miles! For you locals, we walked from Carlsbad Village to downtown Encinitas down the coast. It is incredible what the human body can do with some practice.

I'd appreciate your prayers about my arm. I'm doing all I can do for it, and it is frustrating to feel like its not helping. I have to keep thinking....if I wasn't doing all of this, what state would my arm and hand be in??

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pushing water uphill

I feel like I am fighting a losing battle with my lymphedema arm.

I'll admit that over the summer, I slacked off. I would go for several days without bandaging. Sometimes I would even take a few days off of manual drainage massage. But when I noticed the swelling, I got back into a pretty good discipline of nightly massage and bandaging. On top of that, I've been wearing the compression sleeve and gauntlet most of the day.

I decided to order a custom fit sleeve that I could wear at night that just velcros on. The impetus for this was the upcoming 3 Day walk. I just don't want to be messing around with rolling and wrapping bandages after having walked 20 and 40 miles.  Since it was a custom fit, I got into my discipline a few weeks before I was to be measured for the sleeve. When I went in for the measurements, I was disappointed that while there were some changes, I was still "over" my limit at some measurement points.

Back in January, I had my physical therapist recommend ideal "maximum" measurements at each 5 c.m. point that we measure at. I also have been tracking my size since then, so I know what this arm is capable of. What I've seen is a slow creep upward.  This is despite working at it really hard over the past month. I've switched things up on some nights, adding foam in parts, or adding an extra layer of bandaging on the upper arm. But to no avail.

I pondered the situation. What was I doing differently that may cause the swelling?  I had started taking a Body pump class at the gym. It's a weightlifting class with lots and lots of repetitions. It's an hour long, and we would work different muscles for each song. Imagine-a 3-4 minute song of just bicep curls.  Or squats. Or chest presses.  You get the picture. Ouch. (But a good kind of ouch!) All while holding a weightlifting bar that we add or take off weight plates. I'll admit that I had increased the weight and was pushing my limit. Could walking long distances be causing it? I wear my sleeve, and even my bandaging sometimes, while walking.

I decided to take some time off of the Body pump to see if it made a difference. It didn't.

Friday, I get to pick up my custom sleeve. I'm excited to have something that is more convenient and faster, although my therapist believes that bandaging is more effective. Who knows? Maybe the change will confuse my arm and make it go down?

Its not physically painful. It's just an inconvenience and annoyance. Just another way that life will never be the same.  I think after the 3 Day I will make a series of appointments with my physical therapist for some intensive work on the arm.

I'd appreciate everyone's prayers about it. It is very frustrating to work so hard at something and not have it make a difference. On the other hand, imagine what my arm would be doing if I wasn't working so hard at it? Maybe I would be swollen up like a balloon?