Friday, June 20, 2014

Battling Cancer with an Army of Family, Friends and Laughter

When I first got the call confirming I had breast cancer I was momentarily paralyzed. The doctor called while I was working, and although one part of me knew what I was about to hear, it was still a shock. When the radiologist comes into the room and says, “We need to call your doctor now,” you know something is wrong.

I was 41 years old with young children, and had just made summer vacation plans. Looking back now it's crazy how you remember exactly where you were and every detail of the day. It was July 27, 2012; I was at work and for a mere second I thought, “Ah, why am I worried? It's probably benign.”

After all, I’ve had scares with breast cancer since I was 25. I have fibrocystic breasts so I am used to bumps, lumps and biopsies. But still, who wants to hear they have infiltrating ductile carcinoma? And, as a lovely door prize, that it had hit my lymph nodes.

When I got home that night, the breakdown began. I was okay until I actually said the words "I have cancer" to my husband. He looked at me in disbelief for a moment and then said, “Okay, We can do this.” Followed by, “What happens now? How far along is it?”

We decided it was best to wait to tell the kids after we had a better picture and more details from the doctors. Then the onslaught of doctor appointments began. Setting up surgical dates, and researching plastic surgeons and oncologists seemed like a new full time job.

Not long after the diagnosis, I became a regular with the lovely oncology nurses at Southern Ocean Medical Center. My oncologist, Evan Naylor, M.D., and I quickly bonded, and I allowed myself to put all of my trust in him. Dr. Naylor prescribed chemotherapy every other week for the first two treatment drugs, and then every Wednesday after that. I was approached with the opportunity to receive a trial drug and I opted in. I currently receive the trial treatment every 21 days until December 2013. At least it's painless and now a part of my routine. I walk in to the hospital and hear, "Hi Bridget, how are the kids? How is life treating you?" before my ID even gets checked.

I must say, my children have been troopers through the entire process. When we told them the news, we sat them down and explained there was a bad piece in me that the doctors had to take out. I used ticks as an example. Our house goes all the way back to the woods so they know what ticks do. We told them this tick was deep into my body so the doctor would have to take it out, and I would have to stay at the hospital in order to be sure the doctors got it all.

After I got home from the hospital, I told them I had cancer and asked, "Is your Mommy tough?" They responded with a yes, so I said, "Don't worry. We are going to kick cancer's butt." They loved that response. I explained the tubes connected to me after surgery were taking the bad liquid out, kind of like how your belly gets bad stuff out in order to keep you well. My seven- and three-year-old could relate to this.

When October came around, we participated in the Making Strides Breast Cancer walk. Twenty of our friends and family walked with us. I explained to my children that this walk helps moms like me kick cancer's butt. They were very excited as they ran around pointing out people wearing survivor sashes. My kids would say, "Wow, Mom, they kicked Cancer's butt too!" It was very empowering for them to see that other moms get cancer also, and bravely face it.

Our approach to dealing with cancer was to avoid the doom and gloom. Why take away any part of the small amount of time they have to be children?

We kept things as normal as possible. I took them to school as much as I could, even if it was in the passenger seat of the car as my husband drove. I went to cheerleading practices with my daughter, volunteered as a mystery reader at the schools, and even flew to Florida for my daughter’s National Cheerleading competition in December. These are moments you cannot go back and repeat so I took extra vitamin C, lived with hand sanitizer, and stayed positive.

I had an unbelievably supportive family, and equally supportive friends and co-workers. I am very blessed and grateful. I kept all of the sympathy cards and took pictures of everything sent to the house. When a bad day came, I would look through everything people sent and remember some people aren't nearly as fortunate as I am.

When January came around, my little guy wanted a new story for his birthday. I used to always make up stories off the cuff to amuse my kids, and this time I thought it’d be special to make a story about him and his adventures with his mom. The book portrays cancer from my son’s perspective, describing surgical tubes as snakes and wigs as a magic way to change hair color. He and my daughter loved it, so I decided to write it down and title it My Momma is Magic. I sent copies to friends with children in order to get different opinions, and it was a hit. From there I figured I would self publish it. Whether the book does well or not, I know it is a positive way for my kids to remember our rough year, and how we got through it together.

Read More by Bridget Wallin

Wallin's book, "My Momma is Magic" is now available on,, and via e-mail at at

Kids and Concussions

As long as there are kids and sports in this world, there will always be bumps, bruises and worried parents with frayed nerves. Fortunately, there will also be physicians like Tommasina Papa-Rugino, M.D., who specializes in neurology and concussion management at Southern Ocean Medical Center. 

Dr. Papa-Rugino recently took time out of her hectic schedule to pass along a few tips on kids, concussions and how to manage both as calmly and safely as possible. 

Know When to Call it a Game

“Trying to keep your child free of injuries is almost impossible, regardless of the sport. No matter how careful you are, kids are going to get concussions,” Papa-Rugino says. “The problem is, when many kids bang their heads in sports, a lot of them just get right back in the game and immediately start playing again.”

It’s normal for the child to want to return back into action. Maybe it’s the biggest game of the season, maybe the child is on a hot streak. However, patients need to be cautious, Papa-Rugino says. Putting off evaluating a potential concussion even just until the game is over is a bad decision an athlete or parent can make. 

“This is so important because you don’t want them to sustain a second head injury before the first one is healed; sequential injuries can have additive symptoms and recovery may be delayed,” she adds. 

Know What You’re Dealing With

“When a concussion occurs, what happens is the brain shakes/rotates inside the skull, disrupting brain function. This doesn’t have to be from a blow to the head, it could also be from a fast motion to the head, like whiplash.”

Papa-Rugino says it’s important not to panic, but keep a close eye on your child for any potential symptoms or unusual behavior.

"Watch for things like headaches, sensitivity to light, balance issues, fatigue, fogginess, difficulty concentrating, sleep disruptions, upset stomach…,” she says. “But remember, these aren’t reasons to panic.If your child wants to sleep, let them sleep. Keep an eye on them, but there’s no need to wake them every hour on the hour.”

“Although concussions are usually benign, symptoms can vary from child to child. If there’s any vomiting, fainting, confusion, bad headaches, talk to a doctor right away.”

ImPACT Testing

Papa-Rugino emphasizes the importance of ImPACT testing, which can help determine if a young athlete is able to safely return to play after being diagnosed with a concussion during the season.

ImPACT testing is a cognitive evaluation taken at the beginning of the school year/sports season. If an injury occurs, the test is retaken and those results are evaluated alongside the baseline results. This serves as an evaluation of the post-injury condition and tracks recovery for safe return to play, preventing the cumulative effects of concussion.

IMPACT testing is offered by many schools and hospitals, including Southern Ocean Medical Center. Papa-Rugino recommends all students, particularly those participating in school sports, have ImPACT testing done at the beginning of the year to achieve an accurate baseline reading.

The Best Defense

  “The most important thing parents can do is to be vigilant. Don’t let your child go right back into any strenuous activity -- sports, heavy lifting -- until they’re absolutely symptom free. Any exertion could make the symptoms worse. And they should not return to their sport unless they’re cleared by their physician or neurologist.”