Celebrating My One-Year Anniversary from Mount Kilimanjaro


bree – by Bree Sandlin

Today is February 4, but by the time many of you read this, it will be February 13, 2014. And if so, today is my anniversary! One year ago today, my husband Stephen and I sat nervously on the clinic bed at MD Anderson in Houston, TX, holding hands and waiting to hear about the pathology from the tumor removed during my bilateral mastectomy. We waited to hear whether I had another round of chemotherapy coming before starting radiation. And we waited to hear whether the previous eight months of fighting had been successful. One year ago today, we heard the most beautiful letters we never knew existed: pCR—pathologic complete response.

The cancer was gone. We had won our battle against triple-negative breast cancer, and at age 38, I was a breast cancer survivor.

I will forever celebrate February 13 as a day of beauty, joy, happiness and thankfulness. It is my own personal pre-Valentine’s Day celebration of love and life. We got to come home and tell our 6-year-old twin boys, Beck & Elliott, that mom wasn’t sick anymore, that I could stop taking the medicine that made my hair fall out.  I called my mom to let her know the news and got to hear her tears of joy from the middle of the HEB grocery store isle. I called one of my closest friends at work, and he had to step out of a meeting to avoid becoming a teary-eyed mess. It was better than birthdays or holidays—it was our day of triumph. It was a great day!

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For our one-year anniversary, we’ve decided to celebrate February 13 by doing something amazing with a group that I’m truly proud and honored to stand beside. As you read this post, I’ll be in Tanzania halfway up Mt. Kilimanjaro with a team of LIVESTRONG supporters and cancer fighters. I am so excited (and a bit nervous, truth be told) to get to celebrate my one-year anniversary on the third day of my Kili climb. There are so many great analogies between the climb and the cancer battle: the mental fortitude of continually putting one foot in front of the other; the reminder to stop, look around and take everything in; the appreciation of life and self that you gain while pushing to achieve something that feels impossible; the need to stop and take some deep breaths before you can keep going; relying on the team around you for support and encouragement; and, ultimately, knowing that you’re strong enough to overcome even the tallest mountain in Africa.

In the months after being diagnosed, I was reading through my LIVESTRONG packet and saw a statistic that something like 90% of survivors look back on cancer as a positive experience. I remember, at the time, thinking that was a bunch of crap. From where I stand now, I couldn’t agree more. Although it’s a bit cliché, I will say that cancer truly taught me to celebrate the things that are important. No one wants to have cancer, but I don’t regret the experience for one minute. I’m so grateful to have had this wake-up call that reminds me of the priorities in my life, and how much I need to stop and enjoy the amazing people around me. It was an excuse to slow down, not work so hard and to just be happy. This year I’m getting the chance to remind myself of why I fought so hard. Life is amazing, and I plan to scream it from 19,341 feet in the air—as soon as I can catch my breath.

Happy Anniversary to me!

We’re climbing Mt Kilimanjaro for LIVESTRONG in 2014. You can sponsor us here!




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