Saturday, November 24, 2012

Amy's Most Important Lesson

Today was a beautiful and difficult day to say the least. We began the day with a short intimate ceremony at the cemetery to say goodbye to our beloved aunt, daughter, sister, niece, and friend. Later in the afternoon we had a celebratory church service and memorial in her honor.

Our family sat in the front row, but as the service began, I turned to look behind me and saw a sanctuary full of people that came to remember and celebrate the beautiful woman of God that Amy Schultz was. The site brought me to tears as I realized that the same impact Amy had on me was also the impact she had on that entire church full of people...and then some. The service was beautiful, full of worship (just as she would like it) and wonderfully heartfelt speeches from my mother (Amy's sister), two of Amy's friends, and one of Amy's teacher colleagues. The words they all spoke described the Amy we all knew. She was a unique, fierce, romantic, outspoken, and faithful woman...and never once was she afraid to be just that. I pray that one day, I too will be remembered the way she will always be.

Amy taught me many lessons over the years: to appreciate myself, family is irreplaceable, and to love my God....but today I may have learned the greatest lesson from her. Amy was a strong woman through and through...but she knew that strength did not mean going at it alone.

Like Amy I am the oldest of 3 sisters. I am outspoken, creative, romantic, unique, and at times fierce. But I have always struggled with a need to be strong for others, particularly my two younger sisters. I have done my best to hide my tears, my worries, and my uncertainties, in hopes that they would be able to rely on me for strength when they felt too weary to muster up their own. Amy was a care taker of all,  but she was not afraid to let her guard down, because she knew that God blessed her with loving family and friends to be her strength when she was weary as she had always been for them. Today in church I sat in the front row, staring at the pink and white flower arrangements humming softly to the song being sung. Out of no where I fell apart, I collapsed in on myself shaking and weeping into my hands. My sister put her arms around me and instead of lifting my head and wiping my tears, I buried my face in her shoulder and continued my sobs of mourning. I have always felt blessed to have my two little sisters, but today, for the first time, I let them be for me what I have struggled for 18 years to be for them: a shoulder to cry on, a comfortable embrace, and the strength I needed when I felt I had none left. Today I truly experienced the unconditional love and support that can only be found between sisters.

Thank you Amy, Andrea, and Mom. It may have taken me a few years but thank you for teaching me that being strong does not mean you cannot be afraid, sad, angry, or mournful. Being strong does not mean you cannot show those feelings to others that you love. But instead, being strong means knowing that even if you do fall apart in your sister's know you will be OK, for your sister will be the first one to start piecing you back together.

Monday, November 12, 2012

In Memory of Amy

Last night the world lost a great mother, teacher, aunt, daughter, sister, mentor, and woman of God. She is now the angel she always lived like on earth.

Amy Snow Schultz was 41 years old when she was tragically diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC).

IBC is a rare and extremely aggressive form of cancer that is believed to make up only 1-5% of breast cancer cases. When Inflammatory Breast Cancer is diagnosed, the patient is often times already in stage III or IV of cancer due to the lack of traditional symptoms in early stages of this cancer. IBC forms as a mesh through the muscular tissues of the breast blocking the lymph nodes.

When Amy was diagnosed she was told that the cancer may have been living inside her body for years before it was diagnosed. She went in for a completely unrelated check up and happened to have the doctor look at a spot on her breast. The skin had a dimpled look, a symptom known as "Orange Peel" skin, due to the resemblance to the pitted skin of a citrus fruit. She was sent to an Oncology specialist that diagnosed her with IBC. Fortunately for her, the cancer cells were HER2 cells, short for Human Epidermal Growth Hormone 2. These cells were equipped with receptors on the outside that responded to Human Epidermal Growth Hormone 2. When this hormone is around the cancer cells, it attaches to receptors and fuels the reproductive process of the cancer cells. It sounds terrible that a hormone that naturally occurs in our bodies would fuel the cancer life cycle, however there is a positive side to this. When a cancer cell has a receptor on the outside, it gives doctors an easy target to attack. Many type of cancer medications target these receptors. Now HER2 cells are not the only kind of cancer cells with receptors for human hormones, but they were the type present in Amy's situation.

Amy battled hard for several years, she underwent many types of medication regimens and chemo, lost her hair several times, and experienced times when all she wanted to do was give up. But her faith in God kept her going, and she was able to beat the cancer and receive a clear scan about a month ago. The whole world it seemed rejoiced.

Less than 2 weeks ago she had another scan that showed the cancer was back. While everyone wanted to be hopeful, the reality was we knew this fight would be much harder to win. The doctors then informed her that her HER2 cells had turned into Triple Negative cells.

Triple Negative cells are much more difficult to treat than other cancer cells. The term "Triple Negative" refers to the lack of all hormone receptors on the cancer cells surface. These cells do not need the same conditions to reproduce and do not have the same weaknesses as others.

The cancer had spread to her liver in the form of tumors, and her liver was not capable of processing Chemo Therapy. Surgery was not an option due to the weakness the rest of her body was suffering from. Amy was given a short time to come to terms with the unavoidable fact that her body could no longer battle the monster inside her.

Last night she passed away peacefully with her husband by her side. She left a legacy behind through her amazing husband and son, as well as the ways she has touched the earth with her presence. She will forever be remembered as the strongest woman I and many others knew and I will do my best to honor her name as long as I live, by increasing awareness and encouraging early detection.

Amy, I love you miss you more than words can express. It doesn't make sense that you were taken so young, but even though my human brain cannot comprehend, I know that God's will has been done. You have been a living representation of what a Godly Woman is through your caring, love, nurturing, and open mind. Even after life on earth has ended, I know you will continue to watch over me. You will sing at my wedding, your voice in the wind through the trees. You will be a part of my own family in the name my daughter (if I am blessed with one) carries. You will be the woman I aspire to be. From this point on, I will wait patiently till I can cross through Heaven's gates and be reunited with you.

Love always,

Chicken butt

P.S. I will always remember this lesson from you: Never hold up a green marker and say it's purple in hopes of clearing your name of matter how cute you are.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Amy's Song

My Aunt Amy is one of the strongest women I know and has been a prominent influence on my life growing up. She has taught me so many lessons I will carry with me till the end. Amy battled IBC (Inflammatory Breast Cancer) for about 5 years before finally receiving a clear scan. Together our family rejoiced, from thousands of miles away I cried tears of joy and relief that Amy was going to be able to stay with my family longer.

1 Week ago I found out that her cancer was back, and over the past several days I have received more discouraging information about her condition. I have prayed non stop since the day I heard that her scan was not clear. I have cried till hyperventilating and woken up at 4 am shaking. I discovered something over this short time that is a complete reflection of her in myself. I take comfort in making music. I wrote this short song in her honor: