Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rostraver Township woman’s bucket list formed with her children in mind

By Chris Buckley 

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 2:06 a.m.Updated 3 hours ago 

Watching newborn children in the pods at a neonatal intensive care unit, Kate Crawford was touched by their innocence amidst a struggle to survive.
“We felt they looked like little peas in a pod,” Crawford said.
One of those sweet peas was her daughter, Shannon, who was born Jan. 16, 2007, with heart and diaphragm defects that took her life three days later.
Moved by grief and a desire to help other mothers facing similar situations, the Rostraver Township mother co-founded Project Sweet Peas.
The national organization helps parents with children in neonatal intensive care units.
The organization provides wellness items for the parents as well as baby blankets, hats, booties and specialized care packages like little Halloween costumes, bracelets for Mother's Day and stockings for Christmas.
The organization works with hospitals that operate neonatal intensive care units.
In 2009, Crawford gave birth to twins, Gracie and Lillie – who arrived six weeks early.
Her son, Stephen Jr., was born eight weeks premature. Now 3, he has faced a host of developmental issues. He receives speech therapy five times a week and physical therapy twice a week.
Stephen has the expressiveness of an 18-month-old child, which is a great improvement.
But Crawford has voluntarily “stepped back” from the organization and taken a “medical leave while I'm going through everything.”
The board of directors of the nationwide organization will take over her duties, for now.
Crawford was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer on Jan. 25, her husband Stephen's birthday. Two weeks later – just two days shy of her 29th birthday – she learned the cancer had advanced to stage IV.
Crawford found a mass in her breast in August, but her son soon was admitted to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and ended up undergoing six weeks of physical therapy.
“There was no way for me to get to a doctor, and that's why it advanced,” Crawford said of her cancer.
Crawford's cancer is aggressive and has spread – to both breasts, right shoulder, right ribs, thoracic spine, pelvis and liver.
Doctors have given her a less than a 30 percent chance of living five years.
In the wake of that, Crawford has created a “bucket list” – group of things to experience – although she admits it's as much for her children as for herself.
“There's so much more I wanted to do with them, and I wanted to keep track,” Crawford said. “Say that list never gets completed; they will know the things I wanted to do with them and have a scrapbook of those memories.”

The bucket list contained 63 items – everything from camping trips and visits to Washington, D.C., and Salem, Mass., in October to simpler things like a swing set in the back yard, a pet dog, or watching the sun rise with her husband.
“We're such a young family,” Crawford said. “We have so much left that we have to do in a short span.”
“Faith – that's all I have,” Crawford said. “God is working miracles through me. Even if he does not heal me, His grace is working through me.
“People say, ‘How are you smiling now?' They don't realize it's because people are blessing us every day.”
Holmes said there has been an outpouring of support for Crawford.
“People are coming forward, because they remember Kate from when she helped them, and they now want to help her,” Holmes said. “I hope that when I make an impact, I hope I make as much of an impact as she has.”
Holmes is seeking donations and volunteers to help make Crawford's dreams a reality.
A “Crawford's Rocking Cancer” benefit dinner and dance will take place 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday at the Rostraver Central Fire Department social hall.
Crawford has tried to put it all into perspective.
“The best-case scenario is that it all gets done,” Crawford said. “My main goal for it was for the kids.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Notes from Cancerland: A special update

I am coming to you straight from Cancerland. A detestable glorious place full of tests, weekly chemos, vomiting  bone aches, chronic pain, fatigue unicorns, butterflies, sunshine and beautiful flowers.

Yesterday's day started off like any other normal Chemo Thursday. Get up at 5am, get a shower, and be out the door by 545 to try and miss some traffic. The morning ritual of listening to the Bubba Show on 100.7 to help to ease the anxiety by the hilariousness was a success as usual. I got in right away to have my IV placed, and just waited with the hubs to go back and talk to the nurse practitioner.

Since I am becoming more fluent in Cancerese, I had my Cancer Chronicle binder full of fun questions. I figured I knew everything about my diagnosis, but we were in for some not-so-great surprises.

My questions started off by asking if I could fly since Steve and I's Cancermoon is T-minus two weeks away. Check! I can fly.

Next, I moved on to natural medicines and herbs that I can take to help relieve some of my water weight and, augh, blockage, shall we say. Check! I can take all that goodness.

Then I moved my way to the new language I have started to speak quite fluently if I say so myself! We started talking about tumor marker numbers, tumor sizes, and locations- you know, all that fun stuff.

The day started to go downhill when she started saying how they found three tumors in my thoracic spine. Well now, I was under the assumption of A tumor there, and A tumor in the lumbar, which equals two I was aware of- not three in one place. Shocker numero uno.

She started to talk about how there was 'activity' of tumors found in my right ribs. Shocker numero dos. She also said that I do have a large tumor in my liver, but that is benign. Don't get all excited on me though, she went on to say how instead of one large malignant tumor on my liver, it is speckled with immeasurable cancers throughout the liver. Great!

I asked her for a copy of my reports so that I could read over them, which she gladly printed out. She assured us that even though this is news to me, that it doesn't change anything. They are already aggressively treating my cancer, so me just finding this out is really no big deal. But, it is to me.

After that great chat was chemo. See, aren't I glowing? Thanks photo editing app, Beauty Booth!

Watching Ellen always makes for a great chemo time!

About ten minutes before I finished up chemo, I started reading over my reports. Bad idea. 

'Tumor activity found in right humeral head.' What in the world is that? Google, humeral head. Hmm, shoulder. Tumor in my right shoulder now. Continue reading, 'through lumbar, in to pelvis'. Oh, really? My pelvis, too? I think I need to ask someone about this.

Back came the nurse practitioner, and sure as shit, what I was reading was true; cancer in both breasts, right humeral head (shoulder joint), speckled through liver, right side ribs, three places in my thoracic spine, through lumbar in to pelvis. Well now, happy chemo day to me. 

Again, she reassured me that this wasn't changing anything they were doing. They already knew, it was just me that didn't. It pretty much sucked, and that is me putting it super, duper nicely. 

I must keep my faith. I am worn, I really am. Every day seems to be a new struggle. There is no better song then Tenth Avenue North's 'Worn' to describe how I feel.

Mathew 21:21 says "Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."

I am reminded daily of every single blessing in my life, though. I have to remind myself that even though some days are hard, and I struggle- my cancer is a blessing in disguise.

Thank you, God, for all you give me, good and bad. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Mommy Bucket List

Just to re-cap with everyone who wants to go all postal on me for this post, it is inevitable that everyone will one day die. Since I will most likely be going before most, I have started the "Mommy Bucket List". 

Growing up, we weren't rich, money was something that was earned from my very hard working parents. My parents lived to make sure we had great experiences as a child, and we truly did. I honestly can say I had one of the best childhoods. My Mom shared with me places she wanted to go, things she wanted to do. In essence, she was sharing her own bucket list with me. Even if my mother never accomplished those things, I knew them- and I could only hope that one day I could provide her those dreams. Your mother is your first role model, so naturally her dreams became my dreams. Things she wanted to do, became what I wanted to do as well.

I have lived a good life. I don't need or want for much more, but when it comes to my children, husband and family; there are still a lot of things that I would like to experience with them. We are young. Too young to have mortality shoved in our face.

That's why I have created the "Mommy Bucket List". There are still so many things I wanted to accomplish with my children, husband and family. The list is compiled of not only things I did as a child that I wanted to do with my children but things I wished of doing, and experiences I had hoped to accomplish. Moreover, it is a list of dreams. Dreams that make me happy. And right now, being happy is pretty awesome. 

I may never have the opportunity my mother had. I may never be able to share these with my children, but now they can see them. They will be able to know that even though Mommy was sick, she tried her very hardest to just smile and stay happy. Who knows, I may never make it to one of these destinations, but, my hope would be that my children will - and in that moment they will think of me and remember how much I loved them.

*Click on the link above*

Can you imagine being me, though? Do you know what it is like not knowing what will be your last monumental occasion with your kids, or your last holiday with them? I do. I have accepted that fact that Christ will guide and help mold my children in their lives. When I am gone God will make sure they will be okay. Everything will be okay. Everything will work out how it is written and life will be good. Heck, life is good now, you just gotta find the good in the bad. It doesn't mean I like this, I don't. I hate that I won't see most of these things happen but you better believe that I will try my hardest to make sure they all happen. Keep updated on the new page as I set out to complete my list!

Notes from Cancerland: Chemo #4 went good. I was able to get my Xgeva shot for the tumors in my spine. I got fairly sick to the belly for three days. I really just did not feel good at all. I did end up finishing up the past couple days with an amazing time with my little family. Steve has a 4 day weekend and it was just great to have him home. Since I completed one cycle on my Abraxane, I get a week off before the start of my next cycle. I am not sure if this will be my last cycle before my scans or if I will have one more. I have a check-up today down at the dermatologist for my psoriasis! It has been somewhat under control but with my great new makeup skills-you'd never know!

Friday, April 5, 2013

My Cancer Diagnosis Explained

I feel that most people aren't realizing the seriousness associated with my diagnosis so I am here to break it down for ya today. Grab your shit sliggin' boots and your gloves, this could get messy.

I. Type of Breast Cancer

There are many types of breast cancer you can have because there are many parts in a breast. I actually have two types of Breast Cancer both located in my ducts; one ain't so bad and one is. Let's start with the easy one first.

Ductal Carcinoma In Situ- Ductal means in the ducts, Carcinoma means Cancer, In Situ means in place. So some of my cancer in my ducts has not spread out of the ducts. This cancer usually has a higher rate of survival.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma- Invasive (Ah! I hate that word!) means invading, Ductal means in the ducts, Carcinoma means Cancer. This type of cancer in my ducts has invaded deeper in to the breast and spread throughout the body. This the most common kind of breast cancer.

Next we move on to some other factors that contribute to how my Cancer is treated and what it means for survival.

II. Hormone Receptor Status:

Since I am not a doctor, nor do I feel the need to go all "Doogie" on you, I am going to simplify what hormone receptor status is and what it means as best as I can. Most often, there are things in your body that "feed" the cancer: Estrogen, Progesterone or a protein called HER2neu (Her-2-new). If your cancer is positive for any one of these, there are certain drug therapies to help stop the growth of the cancer. I am positive for HER2 "feeding" my cancer. Only about 15% of cancer patients are HER2 positive. There are some good things and some bad things associated with being HER2 positive. Bad thing: Since my body is over producing this protein at a rapid rate this means that it is also feeding my cancer cells at a more rapid rate, causing it to spread more. Good thing: There are drug therapies that target this protein to stop it from overproducing.

III. Staging
The process to find out if the cancer has spread through the body after a diagnosis is called staging. Your stage depends on many different variables including your tumor size, cancer type and whether it has spread to other areas. Stage 0 being the lowest and Stage IV being the highest (and worst).
Only 6-10% of cancer patients are initially diagnosed at Stage IV- should I play the lottery now or later? Most of them being young women oddly enough. Often times when a Stage IV diagnosis is given to a patient under the age of 40, it is because their cancer is so aggressive that it rapidly spreads.

III a. Metastatic Breast Cancer
Pay closeeeeee attention everyone, this is where things get messy.
Metastatic Cancer (also known as 'Mets' or MBC) means that the type of cancer you originally have/had spread to other areas of your body. Metastatic Breast Cancer is Stage IV and often spreads to the liver, lungs, bones or brain. The process of the spreading is called metastasis. Metastatic Breast Cancer is considered an incurable disease. In fact, when I asked my prognosis, the doctor said that I have less than a 5% chance of ever being cured. Don't get me wrong here, curing Stage IV happens to a very minute amount of met patients. I pray that God grants me a miracle, but again, the odds have never been in my favor. Remember, I ain't no Katniss Everdeen.
Surgery is rarely used in MBC because the cancer cells have already spread and there is no way of ensuring to remove them all. What is done then you ask? Well, they basically just try to pump me full of enough drugs to either:
 A. Stop the cells from spreading
 B. Stop the growth of the cancer cells
C. Prolong the quality of life as long as possible

The problem with this MBC crap is that the cancer, it gets smart, and forms resistances to drugs. And at that point, we switch chemo meds. It's an unending viscous cycle until there are no more treatments left to try, and I think you can figure out what that means. Which brings us to our next topic.

IV. Chances of surviving
I am realistic so you should be as well. Let's go over some ways people die so you can get a better view of exactly how serious this is and what my chances of surviving are.

The chances of dying from:
Accidental Injury are 1 in 36
MVA are 1 in 100
Firearm are 1 in 325
Fire are 1 in 1,116
Natural Forces are 1 in 3,357
Airplane are 1 in 20,000
Lightening Strike are 1 in 83,930
Asteroid Impact are 1 in 500,000

Chances of dying from Cancer are 1 in 7

So for every 7 people with cancer 1 of them will die. I have a less than 5% chance of ever being 'cured', 'getting better', 'beating cancer', ect. Which translates to my chances of surviving 5 years are 30%. Now that you have read that, take a minute to calm down because never did I say I was dead or will die in the next 5 years. This doesn't mean I am giving up or being negative, but as you can see above everybody dies and it is inevitable that I will also die, but chances are, I will be dying before most of you reading this. I am okay with that, so you should not try to talk me out of that. If God grants me 5-10 more years, I will be happy. If God grants me 15-20 more years I will be overly ecstatic and very thankful to Him. Unless a cure is found for cancer, I probably will not be around much longer than 20 years.

In conclusion,
Does all of this mean I am going to lie down and let Cancer kill me? Hell no! Just because I have a sense of reality of my cancer diagnosis doesn't mean I am being negative. When I say the things above, I am not being pessimistic; I am only speaking the truth. You should not try to make me feel as if I am. Don't downplay my diagnosis- it the absolute worst thing you can do for me right now. Accept it for what it is: a death sentence. I am still the same old me, doing the same old things, nothing, not even stupid cancer, will change that. Once you get that, you and I will get a long a whole heck of a lot better.

So for now, let's live in the moment, for each day. Let's not worry about the future, but the present. Each day is a gift from God that I am eternally grateful for.

Notes from Cancerland: Chemo #3 went great! Aside from being extremely tired from being up at 430 am for chemo at the great hour of 7am, I did well. I continued to not have too many side effects other than the rash still lingering and some fatigue. We had such a blessed Easter. I wish the day had never ended. Steve and I are planning our "Cancermoon" for next month and I cannot wait for a nice beach break!