Heather's Hangout

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

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!

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You are beautiful wearing your bike helmet August 31, 2017

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Post-ride sweaty, happy appearance

I recently enjoyed a beautiful evening bike ride on a local bike trail. While I started out alone, I often encountered other cyclists throughout the 30+ miles who rode alongside for several miles here and there. I loved the friendly people and awesome reminder of how great summer evenings can be.

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At one point, I started to pass a young woman on her bike. She struck up a conversation so I stayed alongside her. We had great conversation and rode an almost perfect pace together. As the miles clicked by, I really enjoyed cycling with her. However, one thing kept nagging at me – she wasn’t wearing a helmet.

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I try to keep opinions to myself on lots of things because I believe people should make decisions best for them and others shouldn’t be quick to judge. But…..she asked me many questions about my Specialized Ruby (and you all know I LOVE my bike) and some tips about being new to cycling. So I decided it was a good opening to mention the helmet.

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She smiled when I suggested wearing a helmet, actually agreed that she really should wear one. Then she asked if I was single. I replied yes, although I had no idea what that had to do with wearing a bike helmet. Turns out, she feels she looks silly in a helmet and her hair is a mess after a ride. What if she met a good-looking guy while biking or at the parking lot? Uh, okay. A whole lot of thoughts raced through my head, including flashes of how crazy, frizzy and completely messy my hair looks after I take off my helmet! I have passed a mirror or reflection after many rides and thought ‘oh my goodness, am I in public looking like that?’ But I can’t recall worrying that a guy won’t find me pretty because I’m sweaty and my hair is a mess after an awesome bike ride. If anything, I want to be with a guy who enjoys participating in these type of activities with me, appreciates the effort it takes to get sweaty and messy, and also understands I clean up pretty nicely.

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I almost replied “I think you’ll be much more beautiful with your head intact.” But you know, I wasn’t sure how to kindly say that. Lol. I also recognize that she is 27 and I am in my early 40s, so I have a bit more ‘worldly experience’ and a few more relationships on my side. I’m at a point in my life where people need to accept me for me. Especially my next significant other. I have learned to be true to myself, particularly over the past few years. The next man I’m with must take me as I am, crazy helmet hair and all. That means the sappy, emotional moments and energetic, dance around the living room moments and confident, take on the world moments and feeling overwhelmed, I need support and encouragement moments and goofy, singing in the car moments and everything in between. I want that man to be willing to share, laugh, love and choose me. To not judge so much and expect me to change who I am. I don’t want to settle for a “sort of happy and make it work because that’s expected” relationship. I want mutual real, true happiness, joy, laughter, support and encouragement in my next relationship. Heck, I want that in my life, whether it’s with a special man, friends or family. I want to enjoy the good moments, work through the tough moments, appreciate the good people in my life and embrace the opportunities awaiting me. That’s why I made the decision to change my life a few years ago and that’s why I wear a helmet every time I bike (and I’d rather not suffer a head injury). I want to do everything possible to be alive to enjoy and experience life.

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When you love what you’re doing, you forget you might look a mess. 🙂

To be honest, I didn’t always wear a helmet when biking. I wore one when biking near traffic but when on the rails to trails routes, I sometimes would simply wear a baseball hat to block the sun. And, frankly, what hit me a few years ago was this realization: I busted my butt to survivor bone cancer and am always careful not to hurt my leg with the titanium rod.  How stupid to survive all that, only to suffer a brain injury because I didn’t have a helmet.

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Oops, I think I digressed. Ha. Focus, lady. Back to my point about wearing a bike helmet. Consider these facts:

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  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that less than half of all Americans who ride bicycles wear helmets.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 45,000 bicycle injuries in 2015 (latest stats), with cyclists age 50-59 having the highest rate of injury
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that head injuries are the cause of death for the majority of bicyclists killed in accidents with automobiles. Helmet use is estimated to reduce the risk of head injury in these cases by 85 percent.
  • Eighty-five percent of bicycle-related head and brain injuries can be prevented by a helmet, according to the Snell Memorial Foundation and Safety Education Center. The center also reports the number of bicycle head injuries annually that require hospitalization “exceeds the total of all head injury cases — including baseball, football, skateboards, scooters, horseback riding injuries.
  • If you’re in any sort of accident with your helmet that may have damaged the helmet’s padding, replace it. The plastic and expandable foam that absorbs the impact and protects your head may no longer able to absorb the impacts. If you notice the plastic cracking, replace it (regardless if you’ve been in an accident).
  • There’s no good research on if a helmet has a ‘shelf life’ but most of what I read suggested replacing a helmet after five years, unless you use it excessively, sweat a lot, wear lots of hair gel, etc. Anything that may make the foam padding decompose, the plastic crack or damages the straps.
  • Make sure your bike helmet meets safety standards and fits properly. If you’re uncertain, visit a reputable bike shop to ask for assistance.
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These are sobering statistics and reminder that biking can be amazing fun and great exercise, but requires a degree of caution and safety (as most activities!). I shared in a previous blog post that a good friend was recently injured after a fall from his bike. Afterwards, I held his bike helmet in my hands, with dings and dents very visible. It was unnerving. His head was thankfully well-protected. What a real example of the importance of wearing a helmet!

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The young woman I biked with? We talked about relationships and being yourself, not settling for anyone – whether significant other, friend or even family – who doesn’t appreciate you for who you are. And we also discussed strategies for post-helmet hair. When we parted miles later, she smiled and promised to buy a helmet. I assured her that she would look beautiful.

 

Getting involved in cancer advocacy August 8, 2017

ACS HOPE lobby day

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!

 

Lessons learned biking across Iowa (on RAGBRAI) August 1, 2017

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I made it to the Mississippi River!

I did it. I made it across Iowa. I biked 200+ miles, raised money to support people facing cancer, and achieved a personal goal while acknowledging 20 years since my cancer diagnosis.

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If you follow my blog, you know that I’ve been training all spring (okay, more like the past year!) to join Team LIVESTRONG at the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) to raise funds for and awareness of LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people affected by cancer. I did this in part to honor 20 years from my bone cancer diagnosis and in memory of my dad who always believed in helping others before cancer took him from us. It was a special way to help others facing the disease that forever changed my family. And I did it.

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When I decided to join Team LIVESTRONG on RAGBRAI, I’m not sure I really understood what I was getting into (ha, always a good reason to throw yourself into something!). A friend wanted me to ride last year so I decided to help the support team/staff last year for a few days to get an idea of the event, but I didn’t ride. By the end of that week, I was inspired enough to go home, buy a bike and train for the hundreds of miles I planned to attempt (read that blog). And train I did (with many thanks to friends who shared endless tips/insight into cycling, rode with me or encouraged my crazy idea). I admit that I was ridiculously nervous in the days leading up to the event. I guess I doubted my ability to bike so many miles with the titanium rod in my leg (I seriously need to stop doubting myself. I’m starting to annoy myself.). Guess what? I did what I set out to do.

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If it’s possible to say you’re proud of yourself without sounding stuck on yourself, then I’ll say it. I trained hard, absorbed as many tips and tricks as I could, asked a zillion questions (sorry and thank you to my coach), read blogs, watched videos, mentally and physically prepared, raised funds for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services. While I wanted to ride the entire 400+ miles of the 7-day event, I took my surgeon’s advice and rested in between the biking days, achieving almost 200 miles. I felt physically awesome after each day. My leg started bugging me as the week wore on, but I’m convinced that it’s from sleeping on the ground in my tent (a perfect reason to invest in a thicker sleeping pad) rather than biking (and I feel fine now). I learned enough to be even better next year (eek, did I just type NEXT YEAR?).

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The week brought many high moments and some lows (a very dear friend had a health

Bikes

So fun being on a bike!

issue on the bike, causing him to fall and be injured. He thankfully will recover but it caused some terrifying moments of worry). I learned SO many things about me, other people, biking, Iowa, and life. Enough to fill half my new journal while in Iowa and inspire multiple blogs (if I had the energy to write that much at this time)! For now, I’ll share just a few lessons with you.

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There are some really good people around me: I’ve shared in the past about the awesome camaraderie and kindness of my LIVESTRONG friends. As much as cancer sucks, it is a common bond that ties many of us together. From the other RAGBRAI newbies to the multi-year veterans, I shared many laughs, hugs, tears, drinks, jokes, smoothies, dances and, of course, miles on the bike with my 70+ teammates. They pushed, pulled, encouraged, cheered and supported me. I have deeper bonds with those who started as friends, and many new friends. And outside of the team, I was surrounded by thousands of other cyclists. As I waited 30 minutes in line for a shower, I had a wonderful conversation with a mother and daughter who I ironically rode beside me for a few miles earlier in the day. They recognized my Michigan Awesome jersey and tribute cards. It was a great opportunity to share LIVESTRONG’s programs and services, and simply get to know two friendly women. I thought it a little weird when a man randomly commented on my ‘beautiful scar’ running along my femur, only to learn his wife is a also a bone cancer survivor and he was going to tell her of my accomplishment on the bike to motivate her to stay strong. There was the young woman who brought me to tears and shared a hug as she talked about her dad also dying from multiple myeloma. And the many others who told stories of how LIVESTRONG’s programs and services helped them or others. These stories, these moments, filled me so much with motivation, joy, appreciation and sadness (that this disease still affects too many).

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I’m stronger – mentally, physically and emotionally – than I give myself credit for. This week taught me that I need to believe in myself more. I admit that I was ready to throw up that first morning as we pedaled out of the campsite. But a few miles in, I found myself smiling at friends as we shared the beautiful morning on our bikes, and a few miles later, I settled in as we rolled along the road, and a few miles later, I laughed aloud at the pure joy of being on my bike. As the week progressed and I biked more miles, helped take care of my friend, laughed until my stomach hurt, cried, listened, shared, hugged and simply felt myself be in the moment, I realized that I may never have all the answers to life, but I’m doing a pretty good managing it right now.

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Sunrise on the runway.

We live in a beautiful country. When I told people that I was joining LIVESTRONG to bike across Iowa, many people replied, “You’re spending your vacation in Iowa? In the July heat?” Well, yes. I’ve come to love Iowa. As we moved east across the state, the land started to roll into hills and the scenery turned even prettier. I was in awe of our campsite in Waukon on the last night as we were tucked at the end of a runway at the municipal airport overlooking farms filled with soybeans, corn and cows. The sunset’s colors streaming across the skyline made my breath catch and the glorious night sky filled with stars brought tears to my eyes as I thought how incredibly fortunate I am to be alive to experience this magic.

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Life is short, so don’t waste it. When you or someone close to you endures something serious, it makes you hit pause on life for a few moments (or it should). You can’t help but be reminded that life is precious. As cliché as it is, it’s true that we only get one life. Don’t settle for less. Twenty years ago, I had that reminder slapped in my face when I was diagnosed with cancer. Thirteen years ago when my dad died from cancer, it struck me again. There’s been many other moments throughout life to reinforce that thought. It’s why I search for happiness in all I do; why I left an unhappy situation to seek true love and joy; I explore places away from home to meet new people and experiences; I try not to hesitate to share how I feel; I push myself to be a better and stronger person;  I embrace new adventures and opportunities, I try to laugh and soak in the joy of life.

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Sometimes you have to throw caution, responsibility, worry and fear into the

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My fun bike, Ruby.

cornfield and ride your bike. Despite being nervous about riding the first day, I knew that I would be okay once I got on my bike. I trained on this bike, I fit so well on this bike and I truly love riding this bike. There is something about being on the bike that eases every pressure in my body and mind. It’s a freedom that’s hard to describe, especially as a bone cancer survivor. When my femur was replaced with a titanium, I gave up a lot of freedom. I can’t ride my beloved horses, run, play tennis, volleyball nor many of the activities that I once enjoyed. I think of this rod in my leg from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I lay back down. Don’t get me wrong – I am forever grateful to have my leg because there is an alternative. I never want to hurt my leg, but I need freedom. And riding my bike gives me that. Very little beats the moments when you feel the wind tickle your skin, the sun warm your face (while wearing sunscreen) and the power of your body moving with the bike. You have to soak in the scenery, breathe in the air and think of nothing but what’s around you.

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It’s easy to make a difference in the lives of others. More than 70 people came together to bike across Iowa to raise awareness of and money for programs that support people facing cancer. So many of my teammates have their own stories of cancer in their lives, and also had stories of sharing LIVESTRONG with others as they biked the route. It takes one person to make a difference. Together, we raised more than $140,000 for these programs and services (thanks also to many of you who donated to our cause).

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As fun as this trip was, and as proud as I am of myself, the point of this trip was, of course, more than my story. It was about coming together as a team for LIVESTRONG, for people affected by cancer, raising money for programs and services that support thousands of people fighting this terrible disease, sharing stories and information to ensure we are all one in the fight. And it was a heck of a lot fun being able to help others.

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There’s still time to donate to our LIVESTRONG team’s fundraising efforts to help more people facing cancer. Click here to donate.

 

19 years (and counting) June 27, 2017

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One of my favorite family pics taken 19 years ago after treatment.

Today marks 19 years since I finished treatment for bone cancer. Nineteen years since I walked out of the hospital, on my own two legs. Bald and skinny. Alive. I still vividly recall breathing in the fresh air, lifting my face to the sunshine….and bursting into tears. Tears of relief at being done with the hell treatment, tears of anxiety at what my new life would be, tears of joy at being alive.

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I had no idea what my new life as a cancer survivor would bring. I was 22, on the cusp of starting my adult life. Worried about a career, wondering if any guy would like me as a cancer survivor, anxious to figure out what activities I might be able to participate in, ready to “feel healthy” again. I really wanted to get in a car, head home and never think about cancer again.

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But that wouldn’t happen. Because I am a cancer survivor. Thankfully. And while I admit I spent several months post-treatment trying to move away from my cancer journey and pretend I was my pre-cancer young adult self, the blunt reality was that cancer had changed me. Good and bad. And so I had to figure out how to embrace the new me and my new life. The past 19 years have been full of challenges and accomplishments. Heartache and laughter. Disappointments and fun surprises. Sitting on the couch and exploring the world. I’ve been…..well, living life.

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A fellow cancer survivor and I recently discussed how cancer has affected our lives. In so many ways. Most significantly, it’s the one thing we think about every single day. It’s of course hard to forget I had cancer. If the memories of weeks of chemo and the harsh side effects weren’t so vividly embedded in my brain, the titanium rod acting as my left femur and part of my tibia  provide a daily attention grab.

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But each day is about so much more than my story. I think of my dad’s fight with the disease and never-closed hole in my heart as I miss him. I think of Sara, Josh, Mikki, Alex, David, Michael, Chuck, Travis and too many others who don’t get to breathe in fresh air or feel the sun warm their faces. I think of Andrea, Terry, Jeff, Amy, Samantha, Lauryn, Cassandra, Kay, Mary, Jonny, Elizabeth, Luke, Tim and millions more who also appreciate life after facing cancer.

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Ready to explore each new day.

When I am scared or nervous to do something or share my emotions with someone, I remember I faced cancer. Nothing can scare me more. I have stared at a monster, fallen down terrified, and stood up to stare back. Cancer has taught me to search for the good in my life and in those who I welcome into my life.

My life has been so influenced and changed by cancer. How can it not be? It struck me recently that I have almost lived longer as a cancer survivor than not. Yes, I am blessed. Forever grateful. Because cancer brought me:

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Courage. Strength. Opportunities. Laughter. Friends. Motivation. Gratitude. Awareness. Kindness. Appreciation. Joy. Achievement. LOVE.

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Some of the best lessons:

  • Do not let life pass you by. Enjoy every day.
  • Share your gratitude by helping others.
  • Do  not turn away from love, even if it doesn’t lead to the path you intended. It doesn’t mean that path is wrong. Embrace every opportunity for love in your life.
  • Know when to let go of the wrong people and hold tight to the right people.
  • Feel joy, every day. Share joy.
  • Breathe in the fresh air, breathe out your fears, hesitations and regret.
  • Open your heart and mind to the possibilities a new day brings.
  • Sing. No matter who is listening. Sing. Dance. Laugh.
 

Still learning lessons from my dad June 18, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 1:57 pm
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We were a tight-knit family from the start.

Father’s Day seems to creep up on me every year.

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Perhaps because it is like every day for me. It is a day without my dad. I recall the memories of our time together, and ponder the many moments that he has missed in my life, and our family, since his death from cancer. My sisters and I were fortunate to have a dad who was ‘there’ for us. My parents were an active part of our childhood, from activities to helping with homework to family outings and more. I am blessed that I never doubted for any second the love and support that my dad had for his daughters (and my mom still has).

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Since we have always been a close family, his death had a significant impact on our lives, causing a deep hole that aches less over the years, but never will fully close. I think of him often. When I decided to buy a new home on my own, I knew he would be proud that I worked hard to afford it. When I made an offer on my new home, I thought how convenient it would be to have him inspect my house (he was a home builder). When I needed to coordinate contractors before I moved, I thought how he would have had a list of people to call. As I make a (growing) list for the handyman I need to hire, I think how easy it would be for him to complete my list (because he would have been insulted if I even thought of hiring someone!). As I still figure out this new chapter of life, deciding on my long-term career goals, dating again, travel plans and more, I think how amazing it would be to have him sitting across from me, listening and giving input when I needed it. As I advocate on behalf of cancer survivors, I know he would be proud. As I prepare to bike across Iowa with LIVESTRONG, I know he would encourage me and remind me to have faith in myself.

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The great thing about my dad is that during his time with us, in our presence, he shared many stories and taught us many lessons that traverse through these years without him in our presence. Just the other day, I was pondering the best way to hang a new shelf and I swear I felt him standing beside me right before my ‘aha’ moment. Some of the lessons that he shared…..

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Be smart. Get educated in school so you can have a career that allows you to be independent and happy, and get educated outside of school about the world around you. There are so many lessons to be learned simply by paying attention to what’s in front of you.

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Be a woman who can take care of yourself, yet also be willing to let a man support and be there for you (and don’t settle for a man who is unwilling or able to do this). My parents raised my sisters and me to be able to do many things around the house, in the kitchen, outside in the yard and through varying aspects of our lives. My dad also showed my sisters and me what it is to have a man respect and love you, as he did my mom, by pitching in with cooking, chores, supporting her career choices, listening to her and us, asking for opinions and more.

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Laugh and be silly. If you didn’t know my dad well enough, you might see a serious, sometimes scowling man on the outside. But when you got to know him, you saw his loving, funny and goofy side. He loved practical jokes and playing games. He showed me the joy of letting your guard down and enjoying the moment. And thinking about his sometimes too serious side reminds me not to be so serious all the time.

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Trust in love. My mom turned my dad down multiple times before agreeing to go on a date. He said he knew the moment she smiled at him that he needed her in his life so kept asking. Many people didn’t think they would make it very long due to varying circumstances, yet they trusted in each other and their love (and were married almost 35 years before he died). I often marvel at how fortunate my sisters and I are to have grown up with such an example of love triumphing, and I often hope my future husband and I will be brave enough to trust in our love overcome anything life throws at us. I have learned that you never know when love will stroll into your life. But to trust in love with someone else, you have to trust yourself, your judgement and what you want.

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Wishing all dads a very Happy Father’s Day, today and every day!

 

One voice on cancer survivors day June 4, 2017

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Grateful to celebrate life with my nieces and nephew

Today is National Cancer Survivors’ Day. This annual day celebrates people who are cancer survivors, and also family members and friends. Because anyone who has faced the disease is a true survivor.

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I’m so blessed to be alive 20 years after my diagnosis with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. I’m fortunate to have survived 13 months of aggressive chemotherapy and a surgery to replace my femur and knee with titanium. I’m grateful to wake up to celebrate every day with the more than 15.5 million other cancer survivors in the United States.

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Today, I’m also honored to be traveling to Washington, DC to join 39 other LIVESTRONG advocates for the One Voice Against Cancer lobby day. There will be 130 volunteers representing 19 organizations from 38 states coming together to advocate for funding for cancer research and other critical cancer programs. If you follow politics or the news even a little bit, you know the important issues being debated about healthcare and coverage for millions of Americans. We’re going to make sure that the voices of 15.5 million cancer survivors and their families are heard by our elected representatives. We’re going to speak on behalf of those who are no longer here with us because of cancer, and millions who will hear the words, “You have cancer” in the future.

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This year at OVAC, we’ll push to make funding for cancer research and prevention a priority. It’s estimated that more than 1.7 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and over 600,000 will die. There is a lot of great research and prevention programs being developed and we don’t want to see those slowed or stopped. My fellow cancer advocates and I will be meeting with our senators and representatives to ask them to:

  • Support a $36.2 billion budget for the National Institute of Health in FY18, including funding provided from the 21st Century Cures Act;
  • Support $6 billion for the National Cancer Institute; and
  • Support $514 million for the CDC cancer programs

Someone once told me that I should ‘get over’ having cancer. For a very brief moment, I took it to heart, wondering if I should try to get over it. Until I realized that I can’t get over it. Because I did have cancer. I didn’t choose it and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed for having it. I am a cancer survivor. That is the reality of my life. Being a cancer survivor is as much as a part of me as being a female, daughter, sister, Caucasian, etc. We can’t compartmentalize various pieces of who we are because it’s the sum parts that make us whole. So I don’t apologize for being a cancer survivor. And I’m not going to get over it. I’m going to embrace it and celebrate it every day because it means that I’m alive to enjoy another day.

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A beautiful statement!

I feel great gratitude and blessings for being a cancer survivor for 20 years. I am fortunate. And I believe in showing my blessings and gratitude by giving back and helping others. It’s why I volunteer for great organizations that support people with cancer, such as LIVESTRONG, American Cancer Society and Imerman Angels. It’s why I volunteer to mentor survivors still going through treatment or even post-treatment. It’s why I get excited to advocate for others affected by the disease during the One Voice Against Cancer lobby day and other opportunities.

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I can’t wait to share more about my experience in our nation’s capitol with inspiring people so stay tuned. In the meantime, if your life has been touched by cancer, I hope you celebrate this day (and every day) doing something that makes you incredibly happy!

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I’m honored and excited to share that an article that I wrote relating to lessons I’ve learned as a cancer survivor was recently published by Coping with Cancer magazine. I’d love to share it with all of you in case you are cancer survivor or know a cancer survivor. It’s my way of fulfilling my love of writing with trying to ease another person’s worry and anxiety.

 

 
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