The day so permanently etched in my memory
I was 26 years old, a wife and the mother of two of the most adorable children who were only 4 and 2. It was the scariest thing I had ever faced - hearing the results read. It was Cervical Cancer. I had always stayed on top of my annual checkups and to this day am thankful I did. It was only Stage 0. I didn't need any treatment because it was not yet invasive. It could be beat but I needed a hysterectomy. While I knew it was what needed to be done, I still couldn't help but fight the feelings of wanting more children. I was having painful biopsies done every 2 months and being closely monitored while I wracked my brain with this decision until one day, in the doctor's office, my husband said "Do you want to have more children and not know if you will be here to raise any of them or do you want to have to surgery and know you will be here to raise the two we have?" That day is so permanently etched in my memory and still brings chills over my body. I had my hysterectomy April 20, 2009 and while I still have the emotional battle of wanting more children all these years later, I don't regret my decision for a second.
Throughout the whole process I knew one thing for certain, I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted good to come from this. I didn't want anyone else being in my shoes, feeling the pain and fear I was feeling. I was lucky. It was caught early. I didn't need treatment. It has a less than 2% chance of coming back. Many others are not as lucky. I felt it was my duty to bring awareness to this horrific disease. So, I started a 501(c)3 non-profit foundation - The Reveal Teal Foundation - with the help of 3 other friends. We used all of our connections and resources to get our name and mission out there. We got involved with local high schools to get the message out to high school girls. We had fundraisers. Within our first year, we raised over $15,000. We were very proud of our efforts and could see big things in the future of Reveal Teal.
Unfortunately, our balloon was burst when we got word that I had to relocate out of state for my husband's job. There was no way we could continue these efforts without being in the same state and with me not knowing anyone in a new area. We were disheartened but knew the best thing was to donate the money we raised to local causes with the same goals our foundation had. Along came Baltimore Women's Classic. I had been following along with BWC for quite a while. I loved their mission and purpose, especially after my ordeal.
Honoring Katie Lynn Landers
Rewind a few years. An old high school friend, Katie Landers, was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer at only 25 years old. She wasn't as lucky as me even though she too, stayed on top of her annual checkups. Her diagnosis included the cancer already being in her lymph nodes. She had a hysterectomy, chemo and radiation. She was not married. She had not yet had children. She still fought though and she fought hard. Just when her and everyone else thought she had succeeded, she began having complications. At 28, she was diagnosed with Peritoneal Carcinomatosis - or PC - which is a secondary cancer, with no cure, that occurs when cancer metastasizes from another part of the body. In Katie's case it came from gynecological malignancies which meant an advanced stage of disease and a poor prognosis. Katie began her fight again and boy did she fight until the very end. Katie passed away on September 9, 2011 just a month shy of her 30th birthday. She touched so many people in her nearly 30 years that I can't even begin to describe it.
Katie's passing came around the same time I was taking the steps to dissolve The Reveal Teal Foundation and since she received all of her treatment at Mercy Medical Center, The Baltimore Women's Classic works closely with Mercy, and most importantly because Katie's memory deserved to live on, I felt it only right that the remaining funds be donated to BWC in Katie's Name. Nearly $10,000 had been donated from The Reveal Teal Foundation - $1,000 to the KT Loves foundation and $8,700 to the BWC. However, the big donation to BWC couldn't happen quietly! It needed to include a very special event for the Landers' family. So, my new mission became to make an incredibly memorable day for Katie's family in her honor.
It could have never been pulled off without the help of Tom Amatucci at BWC and Sarah Fawcett-Lee at Mercy. The three of us worked very closely together on every detail. One perfectly beautiful April day in 2012, a ceremony took place to honor the life and memory of Katie Lynn Landers. It took place in the 8th floor rooftop garden at Mercy Medical Center's brand new $400M Mary Catherine Bunting Center. There was a plaque placed in front of a gorgeous tree, both permanent symbols of Katie's legacy, that her family and friends can visit at any time. Many were able to attend from Katie's doctors and nurses, to several of her family members and close friends. One very special guest was also able to attend, retired Baltimore Raven Derrick Mason. He and Katie developed a great bond and friendship through her battle and Derrick remained close with the family after her passing. We worked very closely with Derrick's camp to get him there for the event. He flew in from Nashville to the surprise the family and speak a few special words before heading back that same afternoon. The day couldn't have been more perfect. The family was going to be a part of how the funds would be spent to help patients and their loved ones. They were able to celebrate Katie's life in a beautiful way and they will now always have an extra special place to go see. Knowing that other patients and their families can also visit that spot is a significant feeling knowing Katie can still touch others' lives long after she is gone.
I left that day feeling completely accomplished. I did what I set out to do. Though I was not able to continue on with my personal efforts, I felt confident my sole purpose would still be carried out and that was to raise awareness. I know that The Baltimore Women's classic will continue to live out this mission for years to come. I know that the Landers' family will live it out as well in their own great ways. I know that Katie's memory can live on in many ways including her very special spot in that garden.
Most importantly, I know that because of The Reveal Teal efforts, patients and their families will be helped through their battles so they have less that worry about and in times like those, that help means so very much.