Amber’s a busy mom of three girls. She’s a wife, a competitive runner, and a blogger. And she’s in long-haul cancer treatment. There are no two ways about it: Amber is a true inspiration
Amber has always been an early-morning runner. Until recently, she’d get up and go running on the trails and paths in her Oregon town, while her husband would stay at home with the kids and run on the treadmill — his little early-morning gift to her.
Things have changed lately, though. “I don't have the energy to get up at five in the morning anymore,” says Amber. The cancer treatment and surgery take a lot of her energy these days. Still, Amber gets out and runs. “My three-year-old still loves to run with me. She will wake me up in the morning and tell me that it's time to take a run.”
“That is a big motivation,” Amber says, “but it's kind of a little bond between us too.”
Be sure to listen to our inspirational conversation with Amber on Apple Podcasts or Google Play, or listen to it right here:
It took Amber some time, frustration, and her own initiative to discover what was wrong. “I started feeling a little bit off at the beginning of the year,” she says. “I called my gynecologist and they said, ‘oh, it's no big deal. It's just because you had a baby, you're an old mother.’ But I continued to have a lot of pain in my abdomen and I self-diagnosed that I had fibroids, since I'd had them when I was pregnant.”
The pain kept getting worse, however, and Amber could even feel the tumor bump herself. “I ended up going in to a primary care physician. The doctor said, ‘you need to get into see your gynecologist.’ And I said, ‘”Well, I need a new gynecologist because mine won't get me in to see me.’”
Even feeling terrible and not knowing why, Amber ran the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. “I did the half marathon that year, and I didn't feel well,” she says. “The whole time I remember thinking, ‘what is wrong with me?’”
“I remember thinking vividly,” Amber says, “‘Well, at least I don't have cancer. Look at all these people that are doing this, fighting for their lives. I can deal with little bit of abdominal pain.’”
Amber’s frustration in trying to find a doctor who would help continued. “While I was visiting Utah, I tried to get in to see a doctor there, and it didn't work,” she says. “Two weeks later, once I was back home in Oregon I finally found a doctor who would see me — and immediately they started blood work and ultrasounds and CT scans.”
Finally, Amber had a doctor who was ready and willing to help, but only to find some of the worst news possible.
“I was diagnosed in July with stage four colon cancer,” Amber says. “The tumor I had found by palpating my abdomen had attached to one of my ovaries. My colon was almost fully blocked with another tumor.
Since diagnosis two years ago, Amber has been in near-continuous treatment, working to keep the cancer at bay. “I had emergency surgery two days [after diagnosis],” she says, “and they were able to remove about a foot and a half of my transverse colon and they were also able to remove the tumor and my ovary.”
That tumor, Amber says, was about six inches — “about the size of a toy football.”
And that was the beginning of Amber’s was the beginning of my journey. “About six weeks after that, I started the chemo regimen that I am still on. The cancer had moved to my lungs and my liver and kind of all throughout my abdomen.”
“While they were able to remove the primary tumor, there's no way that they can go get all the little pieces out of my body,” Amber says. “I was given 24 to 28 months with my original diagnosis based on the drugs that they have that they can use to keep me alive and keep the cancer at bay.”
“So that was kind of harsh,” Amber says, understatedly.
A Day in Amber's Life
Amber has three daughters — a twelve-year-old, a ten-year-old, and a three-year-old. Her older two kids are independent and like to get themselves ready for school in the morning, which gives Amber and her three-year-old an opportunity to get out on a run together. “She likes to get pushed in the stroller,” Amber says. “It's kind of a little bond between us.”
This fusion of priorities — taking care of herself while doing something with one of her girls — is just one example of how Amber manages her life right now. She needs to be efficient. Time and energy are at a premium for Amber; she’s managing stage four cancer.
“As we speak,” Amber says (we are talking just a few minutes after she’s put her girls to bed), “I am hooked up to a chemo pump. Every other week I go for a few hours to the treatment center. They draw my blood, I meet with my doctor, go over all the blood work and what's happening. And then I get hooked up to the drugs, and then they send me home with a pump that runs for 48 hours —I have a permanent port in my chest and tubing going to a little fanny pack for the next two days.”
“I'll feel yucky and down for about seven days and then I can regroup and have my life back for a week,” Amber says. “So it kind of goes week-on, week-off. That's the pattern we're in.”
“I’m not training for a marathon ever again,” Amber says. Instead, she has what she calls “a new normal” and priorities that match what she can do. “Training for 5Ks are a big deal, and getting out to run for a few miles with my children or my daughter.”
“I've had to come to an understanding that this is kind of our life now,” Amber says, “and it took some pretty hefty adjustment. I had to stop running with the watch because I was really frustrated that I wasn't running a seven-minute mile or an eight-minute mile.”
The new victory? “I'm running,” Amber says, “or at least I moved my body today.”
In many ways, the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer is significant to Amber. “It’s a very emotional thing for me, with the ties I have to running it while not knowing I even had cancer… then being diagnosed shortly after.”
“And then I ran it after hitting my year mark, and was celebrating being alive, I guess,” Amber says, “but also coming back home and being able to run with my friends and family and people who had known me pre-cancer.”
“It was a really empowering thing for me to feel like I had accomplished something very big — a 5K,” Amber says. “Which is weird, because in that in the past that would have not been a big deal at all.”
“But then I think,” says Amber, “I'd just finished sixteen rounds of chemo. It was such a beautiful thing for me to be able to do that and say, ‘No, cancer doesn't have a hold on me. I have a hold on cancer.”
“I continue to do this for my children and for my family,” concludes Amber. “Because that's what I do.”
Amber will be back, along with her family, for this year’s AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. “It gives them a way to feel like that they are showing their support and giving themselves to something that matters to me,” she says. “I think that's a really beautiful thing.”