Andi Mendise was hanging out with some of her friends. A guy Lane Lambert showed up. He was a hockey player for the Cleveland Lumberjacks and a friend of a friend. Andi and Lane began talking. There was a spark here.
But Andi’s mind began racing. She had been recently diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer.
“I thought, ‘Is he going to stick around?’ ” Andi recalled.
So she just said it.
|Hockey Fights Cancer is a joint initative created by the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association which honors those in the hockey community who have struggled, or continue to struggle with the disease. The Nashville Predators raise funds for a pediatric cancer research fund through a portion of ticket sales for the Hockey Fights Cancer game nights, silent auctions, blind auctions, mystery pucks and fan donations. During the 2010-11 campaign $125,000 was given to Monroe Carell Jr. Childrens Hospital at Vanderbilt. You can join the fight by supporting the Predators on October 27th and March 10th or by visiting nashvillepredators.com/beatcancer. |
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“By the way, I have breast cancer,” she told him with a smile. “There’s your out. You can choose to call me or not.”
Not only did Lane Lambert call, he became the strongest shoulder she could ever wish for.
Just three months after dating, he took her to surgery, went to hockey practice, and came back to the hospital to sit with her family. Some bad news had been learned. The cancer had come back. She needed more surgery. Lambert remained at the hospital, spent nights there with her.
His devotion meant everything to her, but it also scared her.
“I thought, ‘What the hell is wrong with this guy?’ ” Andi said with a laugh. “I don’t know if I would be able to hang on to someone who may not be here in six months. But he went all in.”
It was an easy decision, Lambert said, and the best one of his life. They celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary on July 19th. They have one daughter together, Samantha, 8, and Taylor, 16, is from Lane’s previous marriage. They are a strong family, mostly because they are constant witnesses to a mother’s strength.
“She’s had an amazing attitude for the number of years she’s had to fight this disease,” said Lane, who is in his first season as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators. “Because of that, I think it’s that kind of motivation and inspiration that keeps her going. It certainly helps with our family, too. I honestly can’t say enough about her and the attitude that she has.”
Andi Lambert is an open book, comfortable publicly discussing the details of what many consider a private disease. She has one of the most devastating forms of breast cancer – recurrent malignant phyllodes. It is so rare that it’s difficult to gather a sample size of patients large enough to find trends in hopes for a cure, or even treatment. She is preparing for her 17th surgery.
When Andi was six, her mother died from breast cancer. Her grandfather had lung cancer. All four of his brothers battled cancer. A genetic flaw, she calls it.
Through it all, Andi remains positive. She flashes genuine smiles and speaks with a directness based in kindness. She has an explorer’s outlook on life that began before she was diagnosed at 26.
One example of her zeal for life occurred when she was a teenager. She was living with her father in Cleveland when she and some friends decided one day they wanted cheeseburgers. From the Hard Rock Café. So they decided to go. Thing is, the closest Hard Rock was in Toronto. No matter. They went, grubbed out and took in a World Series game.
“I think that’s just who I’ve always been,” Andi said. “That’s how my father (Sam) raised me to be. With watching my mother die, he raised me to embrace life, enjoy life. You have to be responsible, be an adult, and pay your bills. But if you have something you want to do, do it. He learned that by losing his wife at such a young age.”It was January, 1998. The setting was a hospital in Cleveland.
Andi had turned 26 earlier in the month, and here she was. Three years before, she had found a lump on her breast while taking a shower. But it was just a benign mass of cells that doctors would keep an eye on. They didn’t want to operate because the scar tissue may hide something later on.
But now, three years later, something wasn’t right. The benign mass had gone from the size of a gumball to a lemon, overnight. The doctors removed it, performed tests, and called Andi to the hospital when the results came in.
“The doctor told me it was cancer and I just blanked,” Andi said. “I didn’t hear another word. It was my worst fear coming alive.”
It was immediately known that this was a rare form of breast cancer, one that features a phyllodes tumor. Little was known about this form but it has been proven to be more aggressive than all others.
“There was about a page and a half in the medical books about it,” Andi said. “All they could say is, ‘We could remove it and wait.’ ”
Even though she was terrified of the disease, her immediate thoughts were typical of a woman in her 20s.
“My concern was, ‘Do I still get to wear a bikini? Am I going to have scars?’ ” Andi said.
Her thoughts turned more serious as she learned more about her type of cancer.
Phyllodes account for less than 1% of all breast tumors. It is not known if chemo or radiation help, but many believe radiation does more harm than good. Andi has had two radiation treatments in the last two years and has needed surgery almost immediately both times.
Before radiation, she would need surgery every 15 months. Since radiation, she has needed surgery every six months. Her 17th surgery is schedule for November.
Andi likens her preparation for surgery to a hockey player preparing for season, or even a game. It’s one of the reasons she is partaking in the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer initiative this month, which includes a Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday when Nashville hosts Tampa Bay.
“I’m not doing all the physical things that they’re going to do, but I need my strength when I wake up to heal,” Andi said. “So if I’m not healthy going in, what are my chances of me being healthy after 12 hours under? So I have to condition myself. During one surgery, I was under for 11 hours and woke up not having to be on a breathing tube. A lot of people have to have a breathing tube. I think it’s because my lungs are in such good shape.”
Her limited recovery time has allowed her to spend more time with Lane, Samantha and Taylor. And when it comes to her daughters, she is open.
“They’re in the house, they hear the phone calls,” Andi said. “I don’t believe sheltering them from this is healthy. This is life. When you shelter your child from the realities of life, you’re not protecting them. You’re hurting them. I want them to know that you should enjoy your life, make the most out of your life, and yes, you still need to prepare for your future.”It was 2006. The setting was Orlando.
The Lamberts were enjoying some down time. Lane was an assistant coach for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders. Andi, Lane and the two children were entering the gates of Epcot Center when Lane’s cell phone rang.
He was informed that the entire coaching staff was being fired.
Instead of slipping into shock or depression, Andi was there for perspective.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Well, we might as well stay a couple more weeks.’ ”
The next season, Lambert was hired as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Admirals. The year after that, he was named head coach.
Now it is 2011. The setting is Nashville. Lambert is in his first season as an NHL assistant coach. The family is tighter than ever. The mother is now 41, still fighting the disease, still looking for the next adventure.
“Everything works out,” Andi said. “Life has a way for fixing itself if you just take a deep breath.”