Our fave bloggin' mom and one of our besties, Kristen, known in the blogosphere as mod*mom, was kind enough to answer some questions about life, her battle with breast cancer and her favorite little tot. She's a true inspiration to us all! We're also super excited to be collaborating on a very special project. We're selling some lovely scarves (seen in the October issue of Real Simple) in honor of mod*mom and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to breastcancer.org. Okay, let's get to know mod*mom!
Tell us how you began your mod*mom blog?
Originally, it was called mod*mom+mod*tot. It was a "baby blog" to journal my daughter's developments including places we went and things I liked that I wanted to share. I couldn't post much until last January, when I was weaning her from breastfeeding and had more time. Later in the month, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I vented a bit about what I was experiencing, along with posting design finds and surfing the web in order to distract myself from the terror of cancer. I decided to have a mod hat design contest for my bald head and design*sponge graciously posted about it for me. I then started getting more readers and links to my blog from other sites regularly (like apartment therapy) so then it really started to become more of a design blog.
There are countless organizations that raise money for breast cancer awareness and research. How exactly did you go about choosing breastcancer.org as the charity to team up with for this project?
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I turned to the Internet to educate myself about my diagnosis and treatment options. The amount of information and sites was overwhelming. I needed facts from experts and breastcancer.org has excellent information. They offer diagrams for explaining anatomy and information on the types of breast cancers and drug side effects. It is all very helpful so that you can make informed decisions about your treatment plan, which is totally up to YOU. Breast cancer isn't one type of cancer. There are many types & stages of progression which can be triggered by hormones (or not). Each type has a different level of aggressiveness (speed of growth & spread to the rest of the body).
Tell us a little bit about your experience with battling breast cancer.
At 29 I had suspicious lumps and had a mammogram. They said come back once a month for clinical exams (manual). I was alarmed. Doctors and students took turns feeling my lumps. I did that for a few months and thought, “This is baloney, I'm not coming in here anymore, these lumps are probably benign.” So I didn't go for a couple years but the lumps were there and they grew. I thought they were from caffeine because I was a coffee and chocolate fiend. I got used to the lumps being there and I didn't do monthly exams. Then I got pregnant and breastfed my daughter but one breast was always painful...
Was it at this point that you felt like something was wrong?
Well, after 6 months I had a mammogram and ultrasound of the lumps. The tests came back inconclusive, same thing a year later, so I figured they were benign. Then we moved and started endless remodeling. A few more months went by and when I was weaning my daughter off breastfeeding I noticed that one breast never felt like the milk emptied. It felt like it had a huge hard lump. I thought maybe it was a plugged milk duct that couldn't drain or a benign cyst. I didn't want to seem like a hypochondriac, so I let it go several more months until I noticed it was the size of a lemon. Then it was as long as a bar of soap and hurt really bad. My underarm lymph nodes hurt as well and were swollen like grapes.
That sounds pretty intense. So what was your next move?
I finally asked my husband to pick a doctor and I went for a check up. I had to wait a week for my ultrasound, mammogram, and biopsy, then five excruciating days for the news. The surgeon said, "I'm sorry, you have cancer. It's at least stage 3B, a very large tumor spread to your lymph nodes and it's aggressive. You have a very bad prognosis and you'll need a lot more tests to assess the spread - go see the oncologist about chemotherapy and here's a flyer for a breast cancer support group. He then said, “Call me in two days and tell me whether you want surgery first or chemotherapy. I'd like to do your mastectomy next week. Your tumor is too big for a lumpectomy." I thought, “What a shock? Why is the doctor asking me what I want to do? Isn't he supposed to tell me? Am I about to die?" I had to educate myself fast. Doctor's are selling services and you have to educate yourself so you know if you want what they're selling or if you'd prefer another treatment or doctor. Get the best possible doctors and as many opinions as it takes to feel comfortable with your decisions. I feel deep gratitude and appreciate everything I experience. Every day is a good day because I'm alive and experiencing it. I have another chance.
What advice would you give to other women out there that are currently coping with breast cancer?
You're more than likely beyond terrified. Have hope. Don't rush into a decision or let the doctor tell you what to do. You should be sure to take control of your treatment. There is time for you to get other opinions and scans. Be patient, polite and persistent with insurance and medical staff. Educate yourself about your type, stage, aggressiveness, spread of disease, and treatment options. Get as many opinions as it takes for you to make decisions. Do neoadjuvant (presurgery) chemotherapy, so you can see the tumor shrinking and know it's working. Not all people have the same reactions to chemos and if you remove the tumor first, you can't see whether it's working or not. If the cancer cells are contained in the breast, they can't kill you. It's once they've spread to usually your bones, brain, liver, or lungs that it's incurable, but treatable.
What would be your list of dos and don'ts?
Get Dr. Susan Love's “Breast Book”. Also check out Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center site for herbal and alternative medical treatments. You don't have to get reconstruction or wear a wig or prosthesis if you don't want to. Get all your questions answered and connect with survivors and peers on breastcancer.org and/or helplines like y-me.org. You should find a local support group and keep exercising. You should at least walk 30 minutes a day. If you want to have children, know that chemotherapy (cyclophosphamide aka cytoxan) will attack fast growing cells including the follicles of your eggs and many or all of them will be destroyed, cause menopause, and possible infertility. Freezing eggs or embryos until you've recovered from chemotherapy (about 2 years if you're hormone negative, longer for hormone positive) will preserve the option to have children and carry on with your life once you've conquered cancer.
Was mod*tot a big inspiration during this time in your life?
She is the reason I do everything. I do not want to miss seeing her grow and learn and become a mom (I want to be a grandma!) She was 2 and a half when I was diagnosed. I told her I had a booboo in my booby and I was going to have medicine that would make my hair fall out and make me tired. She went with me to the doctor visits and saw the chemo room and the chairs I would be sitting in so she'd know where I was all day and why I couldn't be at the park with her. She thought my bald head was funny to feel and she thought I looked like her baby dolls. I could not feel sorry for myself with such a special sweetheart to love!
Mod*tot seems to have a pretty busy schedule! What is your favorite activity with your daughter?
I am a skate-aholic, so I love ice-skating and roller skating with her. She has figure skating lessons and she has even started ice speed skating. I've started to take her on the San Francisco night skate in her big pink baby jogger. To get her started i've just been taking her to the outdoor roller disco and on the flat part along the waterfront so far!
As you've said, taking care of yourself and eating healthy is extremely important after overcoming such adversity. Are you a big cook?
I live at Whole Foods & love their deli, organic fruits and vegetables. I don't eat packaged foods, candy, coffee, sodas, ice cream, desserts, & cow milk.
You discover some neat gadgets and bobbles to post on your blog! Where on earth to you find such goodness?
I look everywhere and anywhere! I'm a window shopper and a browser - very visual. I get a thrill when I find something adorable. As a kid I used to go to the flea market in an old drive-in theatre and go down all the rows looking at everything or take the bus to San Francisco just to check the window displays and stores at Union Square. I browse magazines, books, thrift stores, online shops, museum shops, toy stores, fabric stores...
Any predictions on the must-have kids item that parents are going to be knocking each other over to score this holiday?
I wish I knew! I'd buy stock in their companies. iPhones are attractive, but pricey. I'll be sure to post what I find on my blog!
We could not be happier to have you on our blogroll. We don't know what we would do if we had never discovered one another! Tell us how fredflare.com first came on your radar?
design*sponge posted about your adorable products and I fell in love with your style. I loved your "50 fred finds of the year" list! I bookmarked your site and checked it frequently because new cute stuff was coming in all the time. I heard design*sponge's podcast interview with you and felt like I was at a fun slumber party. Then, oh happy day, your awesome podcasts and songs debuted!!! mod*tot was about 2 1/2. We'd watch them together and she'd say, "again" when they were done. She calls you "the guys" or "fredflare" and said, "We should invite them over!" She especially loves your pink dumpster named Tiffany, but she's glued to everything you guys do on the podcasts! We're amazed at your hula hooping and jump roping skills. I'm crazy for your blog, BFF, and love how you support indie designers and promote cuteness and love. CUTE can cure cancer!
Okay mod*mom... Speed round time!
FAVE FOOD: wild salmon + pesto pasta + tangerines
FAVE SONG: Deee-lite: Groove Is In The Heart
FAVE MOVIE: In Like Flint, Modesty Blaize, Austin Powers & Xanadu
FAVE BOOK: "A Confederacy Of Dunces"
FAVE BLOGS: BFF, design*sponge, mocoloco, apartment therapy, eye of the goof, martinklasch, lala-a-gogo, swissmiss, ilike