Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

I know Jack, you should too November 14, 2017

IKJfoundationlogoAs we enter the end of the year giving season for charities, I’m focusing on some of my favorite nonprofits. I recently wrote about two that help animals and cancer survivors.

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This charity feature is the I Know Jack Foundation. This foundation was started by a family in Iowa, people I’m honored to call friends, to support those touched by cancer. The foundation raises money to support cancer organizations, including LIVESTRONG, and provide Jack Packs to those affected by cancer.

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The Jack Pack is full of helpful, motivating items to support someone going through cancer. It includes a backpack, water bottle, inspiring book, meditation stone, journal, LIVESTRONG planner, comfort items, knit cap and more. All items meant to bring comfort to someone in need. This year I sponsored a Jack Pack in gratitude of being alive 20 years past diagnosis and in memory of my sweet dad who died from cancer. I remember the grateful emotions I felt from people bringing or sending me small items to help comfort and support me during my own cancer treatment so I love the thought of helping others.

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To understand the core of the foundation, you have to know Jack. I am blessed to say that I know Jack, and his awesome siblings and parents. Jack was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer at 5. There was no protocol to treat his cancer and no survivors of his cancer at the time. Through a long, tough fight, Jack turned 18 this year. He still faces challenges related to treatment and diagnosis side effects, but he is an amazing example of resilience, strong attitude and miracles. His family is an example of love, courage and kindness. Because they were so grateful for the support and kindness they received during Jack’s journey, they began the I know Jack Foundation to help others. And it does.

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Many of you followed my stories of committing to ride my road bike across Iowa with Team LIVESTRONG during RAGBRAI in July. You read of the miles of training, some of my reasons for making the commitment, the great fun I had during the week-long event, and the amazing memories and lessons learned about myself and my journey.

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This jersey always motivates me to bike!

Jack is also part of that story. I met Jack and his family during last year’s RAGBRAI when I joined the team for a few days. Jack is pretty straightforward with his thoughts and comments. On the day he was riding out with the team on a bike built for him, I stood beside the bike chatting with Jack while his parents prepared for the outing. When I wished him luck and said I’d see him at the next camp, he gave me a very puzzled look and asked why I wasn’t riding a bike. I briefly explained I had a rod in my leg and wasn’t sure yet how far it could handle. He was puzzled with my answer, shrugged and replied, “So what? Why are you not riding?”

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Taking a deep breath, I thought, “I don’t have a good answer for this guy, except I’m nervous to get hurt.” In that moment I looked at this young man and thought of his struggles, looked around the camp at the team members, many survivors and others who overcame physical, mental and emotional struggles, yet were strapping on helmets and preparing to ride miles. I too had overcome many physical, mental and emotional struggles from cancer and other. And I would continue to. Isn’t that life? I learned long ago, as did Jack, his family and all these other people, that it’s how you overcome these struggles that matter. When I saw Jack at the next camp, congratulating him on the ride, he again wondered why I didn’t ride with him. Persistent that he is, I honestly answered, “I don’t know anymore.” Then I laughed as yet another hook locked readying me to commit to the team the following year. I gave Jack a big hug, promising to do my best to ride with the team next time.

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As you know, I did ride with LIVESTRONG at RAGBRAI this year. Jack was away at camp that week so we didn’t see each other but I often thought of him as I pedaled against the wind and wondered when the next rest stop would appear. He became one of my many motivators that week, and always.

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I’m so very lucky to know Jack. I hope you know him a little now too. Please consider helping Jack and his family help others – donate today.

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Imerman Angels offers cancer support November 5, 2017

Filed under: Cancer Tips — Heather @ 3:08 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,
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Supporting cancer survivors is important.

Between the turn of a calendar month and Michigan’s recent weather, there’s no denying the end of the year is coming. Besides the holidays, this time of year also means many people might be thinking of giving to charities. There’s still plenty of time to support great charities and get a tax deduction. It’s a win-win!

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In my series featuring some of my favorite nonprofits, I’m next focusing on Imerman Angels. This nonprofit provides one on one support to cancer survivors with any type of cancer, at any stage, any gender, age, living anywhere in the world. Imerman Angels pairs up a cancer survivor who has completed treatment (Mentor Angel) with someone seeking support. This free mentor service offers “the chance to ask personal questions and receive support from someone who is uniquely familiar with the experience.” Support is also offered to cancer caregivers and those who have lost someone to cancer. With a database of thousands of cancer survivors and caregiver from around the world, the Chicago-based organization strives to match people with as similar cancer types, stages, treatment and situations as possible. With technology, no need to be local to each other.

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The founder, Jonny Imerman, is originally from Michigan and it’s an honor to call him a friend. Jonny is a young adult cancer survivor who is one of the nicest people I know. Seriously, his heart is huge and full of kindness. And the cool thing is that everyone I’ve met associated with Imerman Angels has the same qualities.

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I learned about Imerman Angels several years after I finished my own treatment for bone cancer. Jonny and I crossed paths when I was involved with another nonprofit (the cancer world can be small and well-connected so it wasn’t a surprise we eventually met). I loved learning about the organization’s purpose, and was impressed that Imerman Angels has fine-tuned its mission and values to become one of the leading one on one cancer support nonprofits in the world. I registered to become a Mentor Angel within hours of talking to Jonny. These connections inspire, motivate and touch my heart more than they could know. I remember all too well the emotions and day by day journey that cancer takes you through. The journey doesn’t stop when you finish treatment.

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The organization’s core values provide a glimpse into the heart of the people involved. My favorite is: “Be humble. Cancer is an equalizer. There’s no room for ego in the cancer fight.” These words are SO very true. Cancer has no mercy on who is touched. I am certain every one of you personally knows that.

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I’m committed to this organization and their services because I know firsthand how valuable and comforting it is to know others have not only been through similar circumstances, but also survived. Cancer is terrifying. It’s uncertain, emotionally challenging, mentally draining and physically commanding, no matter your cancer type or treatment protocol. Even if you’re fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends to support your journey, as I was, it’s still a little isolating and lonely.

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Those I’ve met through Imerman Angels don’t of course have exactly the same cancer stories as me, because no two stories are the same. No two treatment options work the exact same or affect each person the same. A drug that made me puke for days may not make another nauseous at all, or vice versa. But it’s still comforting to be able to connect with others who faced the same treatment protocol, and most importantly, understand the whirlwind of emotions constantly circulating through your head. As I’ve mentioned before, cancer is the one thing I think of daily for the past 20 years. It shaped who I am, often affects my physical decisions, and drives me to help others.

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If you are a cancer survivor and/or caregiver to someone facing cancer, consider becoming a Mentor Angel. Your experiences can truly make a difference to someone needing support. If you have been touched by cancer, as a survivor or caregiver, and need support, I encourage you to reach out to this organization. And if you are feeling generous, please donate.

 

5 tips to relax and enjoy life October 15, 2017

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It’s been an odd weather week in southeast Michigan. Dreary, downpours, high winds, then sunshine, humidity and warm temps, then back at the wet, gray again. So when the sun glimpsed out, I quickly pulled on my cycling shorts and jersey, grabbed my gear, loaded my bike and headed to my favorite rails-to-trails. I needed fresh air, quiet trails, sun on my face (with sunscreen, of course) and the feel of my muscles moving.

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It was a shorter ride, just under 30 miles, but, oh my, did it feel good to be on my bike after almost two weeks without cycling. Glorious, really. I just haven’t had the chance. And I felt it. Mentally, physically and emotionally. Between my recent trip to Boston, the wet weather, work (where I’m temporarily taking on part of a colleague’s responsibility), unexpected bumps of ‘that’s life,’ volunteer projects and trying to maintain the “expected” social life of an active, single woman (ha!), life has been moving at a brisk clip.

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It’s also been challenging the past few weeks for the people in my life. We unexpectedly said good bye to a woman who’s been a second mom to me for 40+ years. A friend received the stunning news she has breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. Another friend decided to end a long marriage. I was asked to mentor two young adult females recently diagnosed with bone cancer. And a few weeks ago a biopsy revealed melanoma in a small mole, requiring additional surgery on my arm.

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Life hasn’t been all stressful though. There are always positive, smile-inducing moments in every day. Thank goodness for that knowledge! My good friend who experienced a medical emergency during our RAGBRAI trip is recovering like a champ post-surgery. Another friend got engaged after meeting her now fiance at a conference last year. Another friend got a clean bill of health after a grueling cancer treatment. I made positive strides on some career decisions and my second biopsy revealed clean margins (no sign of additional melanoma) so I only need to remain vigilant with follow up. My beautiful nieces and nephews are healthy and enjoying life.

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In the midst of the chaos that sometimes bullies its way into our lives, it’s important to take some time to relax and clear your head. At least it is for me. And should be for you too. Stepping away from our day to day routine or away from stresses help provide a different perspective or opportunities to simply distance yourself from what’s causing you grief, demanding decisions, and overwhelming your thoughts. We all need moments to clear our head, take a breath before making decisions or determine if what you’re feeling about a situation are valid emotions or possibly from overthinking that situation (um, not that I EVER overthink situations! Nooooo.).

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Here are a few of my go-to areas when I need to clear my head.

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Get outdoors. You all know I love to be outdoors. Fresh air, blue skies, sunshine. Oh my. I sometimes like to simply sit on my deck, a park bench by the lake or blanket on the grass. I mostly enjoy being active, hiking, biking, geocaching, backpacking and more. Combining nature with physical activity almost instantly relieves stress, anxiety, mental exhaustion. Some days I almost immediately gain a fresh perspective on a situation, other days I don’t think at all except about the activity at hand and how much fun I’m having.

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BooksRead. I like to read a LOT. I mostly enjoy reading fiction for the simple fact that I can escape to so many new neighborhoods, stories and people. While most of the books are fiction, the good ones enable me to relate to characters and feel a myriad of emotions. But the plots are unrelated enough to me so that I can close the book and leave their drama behind!

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Dance and/or sing. If you only knew how much I sing and dance in my house, or even office (door closed of course)! All.The.Time. Some people prefer the television on for ‘background noise.’ Not me. Give me music any day. I was raised in a house filled with music – my parents often had music in the background of our lives, or center stage as we sang and danced through the living room, kitchen, garage, wherever. It’s amazing how music can move us emotionally. There really is a song for every situation! From joy to heartache to anger to anticipation to determination and more. I think that’s why I enjoy Zumba so much. After a busy day at work, it feels awesome to dance and sweat away any work or life stress!

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Spend time with children, family and friends who make you laugh and enjoy life. When I made a big life transition a few years ago, I also made decisions on the type of people I want and need in my life. Particularly ensuring there were mutual respect and mutual efforts for the friendship/, after recognizing not all of my current relationships had those. I made changes, some not easy at all, and I’m incredibly happy in my life right now. I’m blessed and fortunate to have many amazing people in my life. People who make me laugh, listen, support and love. There is nothing better than spending time with these people, going on adventures, talking openly, being silly, able to be yourself, laughing and more.

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HH_GaylordDockTake some me time. I had some free time recently when I was at a conference in Boston. It was a great opportunity to step back from my day to day life, thinking about how far I’ve come and what path I want my life to follow. I think it’s important to live for each day, yet also look to the future. While I believe that things happen for a reason, I also believe you can nudge your life in a certain direction. It helps me be certain I’m making decisions for the ‘right’ reason, not because I think someone else wants me to or tells me I should. I need to do what I think I should and want. I encourage you to take some me time to revel in how far you’ve come, and think about your future. And don’t you dare feel guilty about me time. Everyone needs some time alone.

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I hope you are all having a beautiful weekend and have had an opportunity for ‘you’ time to clear your head. If not, do it! You deserve it, you amazing person!

 

Working together to fight cancer September 25, 2017

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Ready to make a difference!

As you know from my previous blog, my birthday was spent in Washington, D.C. meeting with members of Congress to discuss cancer-related bills and issues. I meant to write a follow up immediately after my return……but, well, personal and work ‘stuff’ has provided very little free time (I won’t share how little time has been spent on my bike seat. Insert sad face).

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Quite frankly, some of my time has been spent fighting back against the latest proposed disaster of a healthcare bill. This newly proposed bill would have detrimental effects on millions of people, including those with pre-existing conditions. In fact, I encourage you to call your Senator now to ask them to vote NO on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. You can click here for a list of Senate phone numbers.

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Thankfully, my time spent in D.C. was successful, fun and motivating. I joined 400+ volunteer leaders and staff of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network at a leadership summit and lobby day, where we talked to our legislators about important cancer-related issues. Our requests included:

  • Increase funding for research at the National Institutes of Health to $36 billion;
  • Support the Palliative Care and Hospice Education Training Act (H.R.1676/S.693)
  • Support the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act (H.R.1017/S.479)
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Grateful for the past 20 years.

There is something about being in a room with 400+ cancer advocates….empowering and motivating. There is something about standing with dozens of other cancer survivors…hopeful and grateful. There is something about meeting with elected representatives to work toward a common cause…..exciting and satisfying.

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Our first two meetings were with our Michigan senators. Both are supporters of our many cancer-related priorities, which I’m grateful. I always enjoy meeting with my senators and their staffs, who are friendly and welcoming. After those meetings, our group split into smaller groups for meeting with our representatives from our home districts. I attended several of these House meetings, all productive. I particularly enjoyed meeting with Rep. Sander Levin. We had an energizing conversation about health care. All in all our meetings were productive and promising in the fight against cancer.

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The evening brought the Lights of Hope ceremony. This touching event included more than 25,000 tribute luminaries lining the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. Each bag represented a cancer survivor or someone who died from the disease. It was an emotional journey as I walked among the bags, many decorated with pictures, messages and items of memories. Somehow, both my honor bag and my dad’s memory bag ended up beside each other. I admit as I stared at those two bags, for a moment I felt alone. I missed him deeply in that moment, overwhelmed with the ongoing question of how I survived and he did not. Yet, as I looked around the reflecting pool, at the thousands of bags lit to reflect unity against a disease, knowing I am one of millions who fight daily to make a difference against cancer, I felt comfort too.

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Beautiful Lights of Hope!

I’ve been asked many times over the past 20 years why I put so much energy into this fight. People wonder if I feel obligated. There is some truth to that. Even though I know my dad would say don’t feel obligated, live your life for you. Yet this is my life, and I like it, I appreciate it. I thrive in the environment of helping others, standing together to fight back against a disease that knows no boundaries in who it touches. Or takes from us. I am alive, with a voice that can share my story, and his story. A voice to talk to members of Congress, doctors, health care executives, fellow cancer survivors, caregivers and advocates. I am alive with a voice so that even those who can’t speak, those in a hospital getting treatment, those too sick or tired or scared, still have a voice.

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While I may feel a little obligated to speak out as I breathe, I mostly feel great passion and motivation to work for a positive change that can help others affected by cancer. There is a deep genuine belief in me that if we wrap our arms around the good, the strong, the dedicated, if we all as individuals stand together, this disease will not win.

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This disease has changed my life in many ways. It has broken me, motivated me, led me down many new paths, taken people, and brought people to my life. It is the one thing I think of every day for the past 20 years. It has taught me to stand up to fear and anger, embrace love, hope and kindness, grow courage and strength and motivation, seek love and laughter, enjoy the simple things. It has shown me that one person can make a difference to someone, and many people can impact millions.

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I invite you to be the one person to join the many. Get involved. Make a difference. You can get started by checking out the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network wherever you live.

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My birthday wishes September 12, 2017

My birthday wishes

Birthdays have always been special days in my family. My parents made each new year fun and happy. We didn’t have bounce houses, farm animals or huge parties like are in excess today, but I loved the sleepovers, house full of family and friends, and laugh-filled celebrations with my favorite Angel food cake.

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When I was diagnosed at 21 with bone cancer, appreciating and celebrating life took on new meanings. I spent my 22nd birthday in the hospital hooked up to an IV of chemo, feeling too nauseous to eat cake (I think my then-pregnant older sister and favorite resident doctor enjoyed my piece!). I promised myself that every birthday from that year on would be a time to reflect on life and remind myself to wrap my arms around the joy of life.

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EEdwards_lifequoteToday, on my birthday, I’m in Washington, DC, ready to join hundreds of other cancer advocates on Capitol Hill in meetings with our various legislators to discuss the importance of increased funding for cancer research and supporting cancer-related programs. It’s a long way to come from that birthday 20 years ago spent in the hospital fighting for my life and leg. A slew of emotions are whirling through me.

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Every year that I celebrate another birthday is a joyous occasion for me. And not one that I take for granted. I will soon have spent more of my life as a cancer survivor than not. What an emotional accomplishment. The past 20 years have been full of ups and downs. I whispered goodbye to my dad as he died from cancer, battling survivor’s guilt almost daily when I think of the life he’s missing. I’ve picked pieces of my heart up more than once, broken sometimes because of my naivete and other times by people I should have been able to trust. I worked tirelessly to remind my body how to walk after surgery…twice. I felt lost and alone many times. I rethought Plan A so many times that I no longer remember what my original life plan was! I’ve learned life is hard. There’s no guidebook, no getting back lost time, no map, no time outs, no re-dos to change something. Sometimes life knocks you flat on your tush. Again and again. And yet…..life is still beautiful. There is sunshine, laughter, kindness, unexpected love, blue skies, hugs, music, mountains, beaches and So.Much.More.

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In January, I dubbed this year as my Best.Year.Ever. Of course I had no idea what the year would bring because I’ve certainly learned you can’t control all that will happen, but I needed goals. And, darn, it’s been a good year. I’m at the lowest weight and best overall health that I’ve been in many years, I logged more miles on a bike than I ever thought possible (the year isn’t over, and I’m already planning how to ride more next year!), I’ve traveled to new places and experienced fun adventures, I’ve been involved with amazing cancer advocacy opportunities with several more exciting possibilities on the horizon, I’ve met so many awesome people and strengthened relationships with people who bring so much joy to my life, and the list goes on. Of course, there are things I’d like to still accomplish with my career and personal life….but there’s still plenty of time left in the year!

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What will a new day bring?

I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone over the years but none more so than almost two years ago when I decided to change the negativity, mundane and discontented cycle my life had slipped into. It was unnerving, very unnerving, to step into the unknown by myself. I had to ignore the doubters and really focus on what I wanted out of life. But I had to do it. For me. And I can honestly say that I didn’t expect to find so much joy, contentment, adventure and satisfaction from those changes. I didn’t realize how much I was holding back happiness until I decided I was worth it and deserved it. Was it easy to leave a relationship and life I thought I wanted and society said I should stay in? Not at all. But I wanted, and needed, to open my heart to the possibility of true love, happiness and real life. And, no, life hasn’t been all sunshine and dancing unicorns; that’s not how life works. But, heck, it’s been good.

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I had a recent conversation with a friend relating to religion and spiritual views. It got me thinking about life in general. It reinforced that just because society says you should think this, or live your life ‘this way,’ the truth is you must do what works for you. And that sometimes is difficult. Because other people may get hurt, or it takes more courage than we’re used to, or others tell us it’s not right, or stepping over that edge into the unknown is heart-stopping. Sometimes, actually often, life takes us on a very unexpected path. Maybe you find a career that you surprisingly enjoy, maybe you meet someone who captures your heart at ‘the wrong’ time (by the way, don’t waste life waiting for the right time), maybe your health doesn’t stay as perfect as hoped. That’s all okay. I know it can be scary, tiring and worrisome. If we let it. Because sometimes the people and experiences we encounter, that are off the ‘traditional path’ of life, are the very ones for us. I’ve learned that often the unexpected moments, plans and people turn out to be exactly what we need to help us find our ultimate path in life, joy and love.

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I’m feeling a bit philosophical this year, and I realize I’m babbling a bit. But, hey, it’s my birthday and sometimes turning a year older makes you pause to think about life. I believe it’s important to check in with yourself every so often.

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What’s my birthday wish? I have a few (again, it’s my birthday so bear with me!). You all find happiness. You find courage to live the life you want. Don’t waste a day. Don’t be afraid to open your heart. Take a chance on adventure and happiness, take care of your health and body, explore the neighborhood and world around you. Share your feelings with people you care about, help someone, be kind, stand up for others. Don’t sit on the couch watching the days go by. When I close my eyes and make my birthday wish, I know what I hope for my life. If you had a wish, what would it be? Think about it…..and go for it!

 

Getting involved in cancer advocacy August 8, 2017

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Hope makes everything worth fighting for. (ACS CAN Lights of Hope ceremony in DC)

After spending a week biking across Iowa with Team LIVESTRONG, raising funds and awareness for their programs and services for people facing cancer, I’m even more ready to work to improve healthcare, increase funding for cancer research and better treatment options, and support people affected by this crappy disease. And the sad thing about this disease’s impact is that there is much more to do. More than 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year. It’s estimated more than 600,000 Americans will die from the disease. Too many. Unacceptable.

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I’m honored to recently be ‘promoted’ in my volunteer role with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network to the team lead for my Congressional District. This means that I will be working more closely with our local, state and federal elected officials and their staff. To me, it means that I can help make a more positive difference in the lives of people facing cancer. I’ve enjoyed meeting with the local staff in our district and speaking about ACS CAN at local events. Healthcare is ever-changing today and there never seems to be an end to the work!

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I’m really excited that I will be joining ACS CAN in Washington, DC in September. Hundreds of advocates will come together to meet with our home state federal officials to ensure cancer research, funding, preventive programs and more remain priorities for Congress. The highlight of the trip will be the Lights of Hope ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Here, more than 24,000 luminary bags will be lit to spell HOPE, a truly symbolic moment in our fight against cancer. Hope is something that I hold deep in my heart for every aspect of life. The luminary bags represent thousands of the cancer survivors and those we lost to cancer (Each bag is only $10. If you’d like to purchase a bag in honor or memory of someone special touched by cancer, click here.).

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There are many ways for you to get involved in cancer advocacy. It’s as easy as advocating from your home if you want! Sending emails, posting to social media, writing letters to the editors and calling your representatives is easy and makes an important impact. If you think your voice doesn’t make a difference, think otherwise. ACS CAN advocates had the following impact on Congress’ attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a reasonable replacement (since Jan. 2017):

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–128,000 petition signatures/messages sent to members of Congress
–20,000 new ACS CAN member volunteers registered
–The #keepuscovered hashtag was used 16,000 times on social media (mostly Twitter), earning a reach of more than 42 million.
–30,000 calls were made to Hill offices (since February)

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That’s quite an impact volunteers made on important issues! I encourage you to get involved in making a difference in the fight for better healthcare for everyone. Here are some organizations that are active in cancer advocacy and that I have experience with:

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American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. I believe that ACS CAN is one of the leading organizations advocating on behalf of people touched by cancer. Their influence is far-reaching and makes a positive impact (read the few stats above). There are many opportunities to work for positive change in your state by becoming an ambassador member.

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LIVESTRONG. Many of the national cancer priorities are also priorities for LIVESTRONG’s advocacy work. Pushing for an increase in cancer research funding and stopping the repeal of the Affordable Care Act are recent actions. I attended the One Voice Against Cancer lobby day the past two years with LIVESTRONG, which was an amazing experience, and made a difference in cancer care.

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National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. NCCS works to improve quality of care and quality of life for anyone diagnosed with cancer. The organization advocates for better cancer care, improved research on new treatment options, and self-advocacy.

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Cancer Support Community. This organization formed years ago when The Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club merged. CSC offers social and emotional support for people facing cancer, caregivers and more. The policy work of CSC often focuses on ensuring that emotional support is an essential part of treatment for the patient, family members and caregivers.

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Cancer specific organizations. There are a lot of advocacy groups focused on specific cancer. For instance, I follow news from the Sarcoma Foundation of America as it focuses on bone cancers and get involved when needed. This organization works to advocate for increased funding for sarcoma-related research and treatments, as well as educate patients and the public on sarcoma. As a bone cancer survivor, these issues are obviously near and dear to my heart.

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All of these organizations distribute electronic updates and advocacy alerts. At the very least, I encourage you to register to get informed on what’s happening in policy related to cancer. Positive change begins with one person. You can be that person!

 

Favorite memories of biking in Iowa (RAGBRAI) August 3, 2017

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Dipping in the Mississippi River

I made it back to Michigan after a week in Iowa with Team LIVESTRONG. Three loads of clean laundry are ready to be put away. My tent and sleeping bag are aired out and clean. My bike received some TLC. My friends are all at their respective homes. I returned to work yesterday (at least physically; I’m still mentally adjusting). After a week of biking in Iowa with friends at the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), raising awareness and money for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people facing cancer, decompressing from the real world, and achieving a personal goal as a cancer survivor….well, I’m ready for more biking adventures. Or adventures in general.

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While last year was fun being on the support team, it’s true that you don’t really understand RAGBAI until you bike it. My friend told me so many stories from on the route, and I saw picture after picture of fun that I was hooked before I left last year. But I didn’t ‘get’ RAGBRAI until I got on my bike and joined thousands of other cyclists on the route from Orange City to Harper’s Ferry.

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There was a lot to experience and enjoy during the week. Admittedly, it doesn’t usually take much for me to enjoy any adventure that I’m on. I love the excitement of being in new places, trying new activities, food and more, meeting new people, making new memories. I’m a fairly ‘go with the flow’ person, especially on vacation. But I knew this would be a special week. Not only was I attempting to ride my bike many miles in Iowa, raising money for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services, and hanging out with friends, it was also a recognition (personal goal) of 20 years since my bone cancer diagnosis. I needed to show myself that I could accomplish what I set my mind to, titanium rod in my leg and all. While I was nervous driving into the week, there was no doubt that I was going to open myself, my heart, to making the most of this special week.

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I enjoyed so much during the week. Here are just a few of my favorite experiences:

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Love biking with these girls

Spending time with friends. My teammates live around the country so we don’t see each other as often as we’d like. I was excited to spend the week with some of my great friends, and have the opportunity to make new friends. No matter where I was, riding my bike, eating lunch, standing in line for the shower, riding in the RV to the next campsite, driving to Iowa, there were great conversations to be shared. I reinforced special bonds with current friends, and discovered kindred spirits in new friends.

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Riding my bike. Is it funny to admit that I love my bike? I love the freedom and power I feel riding mile after mile. Knowing my legs and my body, which survived some torturous chemo to kill cancer, is strong enough to bike mile after mile. Sometimes I marvel that it took me so long to purchase a road bike, but maybe it was never the right time until the time that I did buy it. I loved biking through Iowa, enjoying the scenery and towns from the freedom of my bike (although I started deeply sighing at the sight of the large wind turbines, which typically meant a lot of wind to bike through/at)! I gained so much confidence as a cyclist by the end of the week (shucks, I can now even stay clipped in and not look down to remove/replace my water bottle. Don’t laugh, I had to work at trusting my balance for this achievement!).

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Welcoming communities. One of my favorite experiences was exploring the small towns along the route. What a way to see Iowa! Some of the towns had banners, bands and community members waving and cheering as the cyclists approached the towns. Many children set up lemonade stands along the road (I stopped at one on Thursday – the little girls were so adorably excited!). The overnight towns hosted entertainment, food and drink vendors, games, and more. Imagine being a small town, with a very small population, that suddenly has an influx of thousands of bikers, tents, RVs, shower trucks, vendors and more! I fell in love with these small towns. So very different from the busy suburbs of metro Detroit.

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Enjoying life. There were some definite emotional ups and downs during the week that brought tears, but overall I laughed a lot. My teammates are funny with the stories and antics we shared. The sun shone most days. My body felt awesome riding my bike. How can you not laugh? I loved the moments of sharing stories with teammates and others along the route. I loved the impromptu whiffle ball game (where I discovered an almost embarrassing competitive side to myself – except I think I laugh too much to be considered serious competitive). I felt healthy, free, relaxed and alive.

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tent_cornfieldIA BLOG

Beautiful camping spot

Meeting new people from all across the world, from all walks of life. I met a doctor, farmer, college student, fellow marketing colleague, teacher, chef, retirees, and bum traveling around the country (that’s how he described himself!). While the average RAGBRAI participant’s age is 46, I saw young, old and in between on bikes. I even saw a dog riding in a basket and Batman.

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Stopping along the route. There are many opportunities to stop along the route for a rest, food or drinks. Back Pocket is a popular ‘watering’ hole to enjoy Iowa craft beer. The ‘pass through’ towns are full of vendors selling food, drinks and merchandise. The meeting town (half way point) is packed with entertainment, food, drinks, merchandise, games and more. These are the best places to people watch, meet up with other teammates and soak up the moments of RAGBRAI.

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Helping others. Team LIVESTRONG is at the event to raise awareness of and funds for the nonprofit’s programs and services that support people affected by cancer. Our team raised $145,000 (you can still donate!). Throughout the week, I had wonderful opportunities to share information on LIVESTRONG, listen to others’ cancer stories and share my own, and my dad’s, to help others. Every moment was inspiring and motivating. I always come home from these events wondering how else I can help others in their journey with cancer. There is still so much to be done; I’m grateful I can help where I can.

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The week could not have closed in a more special way. At the end of our journey, standing together at the Mississippi River, one of my teammates asked some of us to stick around. When she approached me and took my hand, she asked me if I’d help Terry share our adventure. Terry is her husband who died from cancer. As she sprinkled his ashes in my hand, my heart immediately warmed at the honor of sharing this moment with her, and him (and of course I cried at the honor being part of a beautiful moment). As a small group, we stood together on the dock and sprinkled the ashes into the Mississippi River and across the soft breeze. As I looked at these special people, and at the great river flowing beside me, as I heard laughter and yells of accomplishment from others dipping their bikes in the river, I was reminded again of how precious life is, and how grateful I am to be alive to enjoy it.

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So, my friends, spend your days being happy. Sometimes we must make tough decisions to find that happiness. Sometimes we have to struggle first to then find our peace and contentment. Sometimes we have to look in the opposite direction to find the path we are supposed to walk. Life is full of adventures. I’m ready for the next one.

 

 
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