I’m not sure how to write this blog. For one thing, I’m feeling a bit jet-lagged. The other is that my heart is so full and my mind keeps replaying so many memories from my recent trip to Austin that I don’t where to start. So if I babble through this, bear with me.
I spent five recent days in Austin, Texas celebrating life, friends, survivorship and positive change. I spent these days supporting the LIVESTRONG Foundation‘s 20th anniversary of the LIVESTRONG Challenge event. I am a better person for doing so.
It’s been several years since I visited Austin. My first trips to Austin were, ironically, related to LIVESTRONG. Back then it was known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation but the goal of supporting people touched by cancer was the same. I was very involved with Camp Mak-A-Dream in Montana and the foundation provided assistance in helping us start a young adult survivors conference (to this day, it’s one of the efforts I’m most proud of). So it felt a bit ‘full circle’ to return to Austin for another LIVESTRONG purpose.
My regular readers might remember that I represented LIVESTRONG at the One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) lobby day and I’ve written about their support services for cancer survivors and caregivers in the past. As part of my commitment to the organization, I thought it would be good to check out a fundraising/team event so I could better speak on the various events offered. And, admittedly, I eagerly jumped at the chance to meet up with some friends who also were attending the Austin event. We all know I’m not one to turn down a chance to travel!
So a group of us headed to Austin. And it was not a disappointment (although I don’t know that any trip I’ve ever been on has been a disappointment because I believe in making the most of any situation, especially an opportunity to travel. But I digress….remember the jet lag). There were so many opportunities throughout the trip to connect with people I had met in the past, and meet lots of new people. I love that we all have at least one thing in common – our dedication to help LIVESTRONG support people touched by cancer.
The day of the Challenge event was….early. And steamy (seriously, Texas, 90 degrees and humid in October? My hair was so not prepared for that weather.). But the day was full of so much energy. And once again, everyone in attendance had something immediately in common – fighting cancer. Most of you have probably been to a charity walk or event. There is something powerfully inspiring and motivating to be part of an event with a common cause. Of course, as a cancer survivor and someone who lost her dad to cancer, these cancer-related events are deeply personal. I have attended and planned numerous cancer charity events, and I always take some time to step aside from the crowd and absorb the impact. I see the joy, sadness, hope and dedication on faces. I hear the stories. I watch the determination. I am inspired and touched. I leave every one of these events with a full heart and renewed commitment to being a cancer advocate. This LIVESTRONG Challenge was no different. Thousands of people came together to walk, run, bike or observe, as a team to raise funds for a cancer institute that will have great impact on thousands fighting this crazy disease. There is significant positive power in that movement.
I felt so much gratitude as I added my name to the survivor card. Some days I feel like a different person than that 21-year-old young woman diagnosed with bone cancer, as if I could sit beside her on the hospital bed, wrap her in a hug and promise brighter days. Then there are the days that I vividly feel every ache and emotion. There was also a moment when I wrote my dad’s name on the “In memory of” card that I was certain he’d be there if I turned around. Maybe more wishful thinking, or desperate longing, but I still am sure he was there, cheering and supporting me and everyone else there that day. I like to think that he proudly walked beside me on the route.
I am grateful to be able to participate in these events. As a cancer survivor, I know how blessed I am to have every minute of every day, alive and enjoying people and places. Therefore, while I walk and speak and try my best to make a difference because of my survivorship, I mostly do these things for him. And others who do not get to walk, speak or live.
And the people. I don’t even know where to begin with these people who come from near and far to support LIVESTRONG – from seeing current friends to making new. I must have hugged hundreds of people, including strangers. I shared and listened to so many stories. I sat on a bench after the walk with tears in my eyes as a woman told of losing her husband to cancer, the love of her life, and promised her that I wouldn’t ignore special moments, opportunities or people. I hugged a man who completed treatment last month, then was swept in a bear hug by him after I shared that I was done with treatment too. So many times this trip, I laughed until my cheeks and stomach hurt. I embraced connections that I didn’t know could exist so strongly. I was reminded numerous times of how beautiful life is, and the impact our positive actions can make on so many people. I felt like I was home, surrounded by love, inspiration, motivation and kindness. So much kindness.
This is LIVESTRONG to me. People thank me for being involved and helping others, but I always feel like I should be saying thank you for the opportunity to be involved, to help others and do good. After all, I can. I’m alive.
If you or someone you know is going through cancer, visit LIVESTRONG’s website for some valuable information, navigation services and more. If you’d like to help make a difference, check out LIVESTRONG’s advocacy efforts. Donate to support their services or join Team LIVESTRONG. You’ll make a difference. I promise.