Our Story | Triple-Negative & Triple-Positive

This past Friday Maureen began new treatments for the latest twist in the progression of her breast cancer. As I promised on Facebook, this latest post will actually include a few glimpses into our specific journey with cancer, however, as I have made clear since the very first post, this is our story, not cancer’s. As a friend at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School commented yesterday, this is a very intentional approach. She is right, and it is intentional on our part for two reasons.

First, it is our expectation that we are going to “win” the fight with cancer, and second, we define winning as the living of life, and living is loving, and I love Maureen. So, since cancer is getting a bit more air time than it deserves in this post, I’m going to expand on the meme of love from the latest post I made about our trip to Chicago. I’ll get the oncology stuff out of the way first and then get to the fun stuff: Maureen and my story, how we met, how we fell in love, how I was blessed for her to say yes when I proposed, and how we ended up at the altar at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois.

Just so there is no confusion. Cancer sucks. 1 in 8 women will deal with breast cancer in their lifetimes; every 4 minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer, and every 10 minutes someone passes away from a blood cancer; a deeply cherished young friend and angel was part of that 10 minutes and passed away at 11 years old, just over a year ago because of blood cancer, and my wife, Maureen, is one of those 8 women dealing with breast cancer. Again, so there is no confusion. Cancer sucks.

To “fight it” is not a one time thing, either. It morphs; it changes; it transforms. It finds every possible way to keep replicating, cell after cell after cell. It can start in “one” place, like breast cancer or be everywhere, like blood cancer. The very stuff that creates life gets confused. Parts of the DNA in a cancer cell figure out how to keep replicating, while other parts, “the inhibitors,” also mutate, so there is nothing to stand in the way of this replication. Our immune system doesn’t see these aberrant cells as a cold or a virus, so they don’t sweep in to attack. As a result, we need to send in special medicines to go do the work that the body can not do by itself. We’re getting better at these medicines, but in most cases, the medicines are as bad as the disease. To knock out the bad cells means knocking out a lot of other ones, too. Sometimes, you get “lucky,” and have the “right” kind of cancer, like HER2+ and can send in targeted medicines. For the past 4 years, Maureen was getting one of those. It is called Herceptin, and it worked.

However, like I mentioned earlier, cancer morphs, changes, transforms. We’ve spent the last several weeks traveling to MD Anderson to get biopsies, as well as to other cancer centers, like Northwestern and Baylor-Hardin, so that we could be absolutely sure of what kind of cancer we are dealing with. The other thing cancer does is metastasize. This is a fancy word for “move around.” In Maureen’s case, it moved from a localized breast cancer tumor that required a masectomy 11 years ago to a set of cancer cells that have been “floating” around the lining of her lungs, causing pleural effusions (liquid around the lung linings) and other side effects. In addition to tests, we’ve met with the best breast cancer specialists I can find, so that our local oncologist, Dr. Kampe, has the best knowledge possible to guide us to the next therapy. By the way, even though cancer sucks, good oncologists don’t, and Dr. Kampe is one of the good ones. We are truly blessed to have this man on our team.

So, we figured out that things are now triple-negative, and we’ve started new treatments (which will occur every 3 weeks) to get after it. Quite frankly, I think positive and negative are stupid words for this stuff, packed with too much baggage. Quite frankly, I think we could refer to the receptors as on or off. In the case of breast cancer, there are three receptors that matter, PR, ER and HER. In Maureen’s case, like Robin Roberts of ABC and 15% of women with breast cancer, these receptors are all off, thus the term triple-negative. That is what we are treating. So, that’s enough for cancer today.

I’m now going to turn to what I call the triple-positive: meeting Maureen, proposing to Maureen and being married to Maureen, three of the best things in my life, up until the birth of our three kids. Maureen and I met in 1988, working at Apple. I had just started at the downtown office of Apple in Chicago, after an 18 month new graduate management training program, and a good friend and colleague at Apple had convinced Maureen to interview at the company. As you read the story, you’ll quickly realize why that Apple friend remains a cherished friend to this day!! Maureen joined Apple and supported the same District Manager for whom I worked, and so, I walked by her desk every day. The gorgeous woman in this photo is what started my every day in the office. Walking by Maureen’s desk in the summer of 1988, something hit me. I said to myself, “I’m going to marry that beautiful woman.” The next thought that hit me was, “now I just need to figure out how to ask her out on a date!” First things first, huh?!

We started going out over the course of the fall. I lived out in the suburbs of Chicago at the time (something Maureen still hasn’t figured out. Why would a young guy live all the way out there?!). Apple got a whole lot of extra work out of me in those days, because I would always find a way to go down to the office in the Loop to work on the weekends, so that I would have an excuse to call Maureen, who lived in Linooln Park, and ask her out to dinner or a movie. Just typing these words, I get the same goosebumps now that I got then. When she would say yes, I always hopped up, literally and figuratively. My heart was happy, and it put a jump in my feet. As things progressed throughout the fall, I was a bit worried that she might not realize just how much and how deeply I adored her, so I got another idea. This one was born from the fact that I knew how important family was to her, and she was going to be with her family in Ridgewood, New Jersey over the holidays. This afforded a brilliant opportunity for me.

I figured that a dozen red roses arriving on Christmas Eve at her family’s home in Ridgewood might do the trick… it did. The funny thing, though, is that neither of her sisters even knew she was dating at the time… her youngest sister was, and so when the roses arrived, she figured that Paul had sent them and tore into them, and quickly figured out they were for Maureen and were from a guy named Gary. Since everyone was still out doing last minute Christmas shopping, it wasn’t until cocktail hour that everyone was sitting by the fire in the living room, and Maureen arrived back at her family’s home, finished with her own shopping. She was greeted by the same question from all assembled, “Who is Gary?” To which my sweetie, Maureen, responded, “he’s just a friend.” Fortunately, her youngest sister pointed out to her that her “friends” don’t send her a dozen red roses!!! Thanks Nique for pointing that one out to her!!!

Maureen and I spoke on Christmas Day… we weren’t to the point that I could propose marriage. That would come a few months later, but I did have the privilege of picking her up from Chicago O’Hare on New Year’s Eve, after Christmas break, and we celebrated the New Year with some of her college friends in Chicago. This is the first part of my triple-positive, and I will share the next two positives in a post over the weekend, both the proposal and our marriage. As I said, we are already “winning” the fight with cancer, because winning is living, and living is love, and I love Maureen, more than words can ever describe.