Heather's Hangout

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

Finding gratitude in an uncertain world November 21, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 9:00 am
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HH_bikeMissRiver 2017_blog

Grateful for how far I’ve come since cancer treatment.

It is slightly stunning to me that Thanksgiving is this week, starting the whirlwind holiday season. And a stark reminder that the year is quickly winding down. I can’t believe how fast the year went – a testament of the fun and adventures creating my Best.Year.Yet? Or the reality that life seems to speed up the older you get? Hmmm, I’ll choose the first. Haha.

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Life is always going to be a series of ups and downs, right? For every fun adventure, hard-won accomplishment or satisfying moment, you will most likely encounter a moment of disappointment, heartache, frustration at points along the journey. Even love, as beautiful as it can be, often takes us on a bumpy road toward happiness.

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During this time of year, it seems that people focus on gratitude and kindness. I’d love to see people be more dedicated to this practice year round, but am happy to see the practice done at all. And even though I try to focus on daily gratitude, I too pause a little longer this time of year. Such is the time of year, right?

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I’m going to be honest – I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around the approaching holidays. A lot flits through my mind lately, emotions to sort and decisions to be made about the future. I have to remind myself to focus on the present too. Which leads to opportunities to give thanks for all the current goodness in my life. Because I am very lucky. To be alive 20 years past a bone cancer diagnosis. To walk on my own two legs after having my femur replaced with titanium. To find happiness, courage and calm after restarting my life on my own a few years ago. To trust the people in my life. To be optimistic about my future.

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Several family and friends have commented over the past two years they are happy that I’m happier than I seemed in the past. I know the decision that led to the feeling of a heavy weight lifting from my shoulders because I vividly recall feeling startled at the change. I didn’t realize I was carrying so much emotion in my heart and “on my shoulders.” It was equally startling when people randomly commented on how much happier and at peace I seemed. I guess you think you’re happy and content, or convince yourself of these feelings, until you step away from a situation and the clouds clear. Regardless, I’m thankful for how far I’ve come in the past 20 years, and even past few months.

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thankfulsignI trust in myself and the journey I’m on. That took a lot of work and focus on what and who I want in my life. And then finding the courage and commitment to make changes, if needed, and embrace the new experiences with arms wide open and no hesitation. I knew I no longer wanted to settle or stay in a situation because I felt obligated; I instead knew I had to listen to my heart, understand who and what I need, and pursue those in order to have what I truly want in this life. Without apology or hesitation. Life is much too short – and you never when it will change or end – to not focus on who and what you need to be happy – not just sort of happy and content, but REALLY happy. I can not settle for less, not now that I’ve felt and seen the difference. Nor should you, my friends. My heart opened to giving and receiving love, which brought amazing people into my life. I’m still surprised I didn’t meet certain people earlier in my life, but I’m so grateful for their presence now, and hope they’re forever walking with me along our journeys.

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I’m grateful for many things occurring in my Best.Year.Yet. I never dreamed I would log more than 1,400 miles on my road bike this year (compared to barely 300 last year, and probably less in previous years), including a trip across Iowa with LIVESTRONG teammates. I overcame a lot of mental, emotional and physical challenges to accomplish these goals. I’m so very grateful for my healthy body staying strong 20 years past diagnosis, letting me walk every day on my own two legs and reminding me of how far I’ve come since cancer treatment. I’m grateful for the opportunities to help many others affected by cancer, through mentoring, writing, advocacy, meetings with legislators, and simply coming together with like-minded people to make a difference. What an honor and pleasure these moments are for me!

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I’m grateful for the opportunities to explore the world through my travels. And even more grateful for the people who accompanied me, and those I met along the way. So many memories to cherish.

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There are so many people and things I could add to a gratitude list. I am a lucky woman. Wonderful people surround me, my health holds strong, my heart is full of love and happiness. While I admittedly am someone who likes to look to the future (I’m naturally a planner!), I have also learned to embrace every day, and find at least one thing to be grateful for in that day. Because there is always one thing, even if it’s simply waking up (actually a pretty major thing to be grateful for!). One of my favorite quotes is “Wrap your arms around life and give it a hug.” A beautiful daily reminder for all.

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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.

 

Galloping into the giving season November 1, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons,Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 9:00 am
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Visiting Horses’ Haven is inspiring.

As the year begins to wind down (where did time go?), it’s an important time for nonprofits that work year round to make a difference in our lives. From fighting diseases to protecting nature and animals to helping people with food and shelter, thousands of charities rely heavily on the generosity and kindness of others.

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I hope you’re considering a year-end, tax-deductible donation to a charity, if you haven’t already donated. I’ve written much about various charities over the years, those that touch my heart and I personally donate to and volunteer for as I support their mission, programs and services. Since November and December are big months for charitable giving, I wanted to provide an overview of some of my favorite charities. To be frank, there are so many that I could probably write posts every week all year!

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I’ll kick off November with the lovable animal charity, Horses’ Haven. Horses Haven is a local organization that rescues horses, donkeys and other animals who are abused, neglected, unwanted, aged or whose owners can no longer afford to keep them.

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Horses have ranked, along with dogs, as my favorite animal since I can remember. I think “horse” was one of the first words I spoke as a child. After years of begging my parents, they finally let me take riding lessons when I was 9 years old. I still remember dancing around the house singing “I’m so excited” by the Pointer Sisters.

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For the next 13 years, I lived and breathed horses. My first trainer spotted my talent for handling horses and riding so invited me to work at the barn every Saturday for a few hours to earn riding time. I rode hunter/jumpers, having no fear of riding a horse jumping 3’-5’ fences or riding the high-energy, mischievous horses. I switched barns when I was 15 to ride with a trainer who pushed me a bit more. I never owned my own horse, however, always had requests to ride others’ horses for lessons and at horse shows.

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When I went to college, I couldn’t get home often enough to ride at my regular bar so found a farm that bred and trained Quarter Horses near the university. I offered to work around the barn in exchange for riding opportunities. The owner happily accepted so I spent the next four years learning much about training horses. I loved spring time when the new colts and fillies would run around the pastures. Nothing brought a smile to my face faster. When I was 21, near the end of my senior year, I got a job exercising racehorses for a local trainer. It was at this farm that I finally stopped ignoring the growing pain in my left knee. I went to a walk-in clinic near school and discovered my bone cancer.

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Such a handsome boy.

It changed everything. As scared as I was with the cancer diagnosis, I was devastated at the idea of not riding again. Since my knee and femur were to be replaced with titanium, I could very much jeopardize my leg if I fell off a horse. Despite that fear, I decided to try riding for pleasure after I finished chemo. I didn’t have the previous carefree attitude, however, I was thrilled to be back in the saddle. I unfortunately had to soon replace my titanium rod again after a fall at work and my surgeon said I would have to decide – continue to ride and risk losing my leg in a fall from a horse or stop riding.

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It wasn’t much of a choice of course. I was blessed and grateful to still have my leg. But I took giving up horses very hard. I became a little bitter and angry toward cancer, and hated those feelings. I cut my favorite animals from my life – sold my tack, took down pictures, gave away books and movies. I thought it was easier. For so many years of my life, horses were my escape from school, peer pressure, work and life in general. I relaxed the moment I crossed into the barn. I could stand in a stall with a horse, run my fingers through his mane, rest my cheek against his shoulder and enjoy minutes of peaceful quiet. I lived for these moments. And cancer took it away.

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About 10 years ago I decided to get those feelings back. I found Horses Haven. I attended one of their farm tours and felt an odd pull like I had come home. Horses Haven began in 1995 and is completely volunteer run – no paid staff at all. That fact still amazes me when you consider how much time and energy goes into feeding, watering, cleaning stalls/pastures, taking care of many animals who often have health issues, and just ensuring these well-deserving animals feel love. Dedicated volunteers work in shifts throughout the day, every day, to keep the farm running and the animals taken care of.

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Horses have been my passion since childhood.

I often wanted to volunteer to help at the barn, however, the farm isn’t very close to my home and my schedule fairly full so I decided to sponsor a horse – basically my monthly financial support helped take care of him.  I sponsored Shecky, a gorgeous chestnut Thoroughbred, for many years. He was neglected when Horses Haven first rescued him years ago, then adopted by a great family. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep him so he returned to Horses Haven. He had bad knees at that point so couldn’t be ridden. I thought we were a perfect pair with my rod that prevented me from riding. He enjoyed a relaxing life with his pasture mates until he died (of old age) two years ago. I loved visiting him, and all the other horses. They each have special stories, of overcoming the odds. Some from neglect and abuse, others from kind owners who could no longer support them.

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There are many ways to support Horses’ Haven – volunteer regularly, on their farm work days or special events, sponsor a horse as I did, donate to the general fund, provide items from the wish list. Some of the horses are available for adoption as companion animals or for riding.

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This volunteer organization makes a wonderful impact on the lives of the animals they support and provide shelter and love to. Donate today.

 

5 activities for fun with girlfriends October 23, 2017

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Sometimes simple fun is the best fun!

I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by kind, courageous, fun people, including a wonderful group of women who I call my good friends. I’ve certainly learned over the years that it’s not the quantity of friends but the quality of friendships that help make life meaningful and fun. I love spending time with these friends. And as with most circumstances, it’s not so much what we do, simply that we’re spending time together.

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One thing I look forward to during the cooler months is indoor fun with friends. Our activities of choice change a bit when the weather changes. Makes sense as we want to be outdoors to enjoy beautiful, sunny weather and move indoors when the weather isn’t so beautiful.

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I love spending time with girlfriends, especially lately as I’ve really built some strong bonds with amazing women. We’ve been talking about activities and plans for the winter months. Here are some ideas I’m working to put on our calendars:

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Ceramic/pottery studio: I recently went to a local ceramic studio with a girlfriend and had a blast creating a vase. I love being crafty and artsy so enjoy the opportunity to paint something to take home. It’s a nice time to relax with friends, enjoy girl talk and see what creativity we can spark.

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Painting class: You may think you aren’t an artist and can’t paint, but the popular step by step painting classes are really for anyone. I’ve even seen great pieces by children! These group classes are often by reservation so get a group together, choose the piece to paint and get artsy. It’s fun to compare paintings at the end because no painting looks alike!

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Motivate yourself with others!

Girls night in: Sometimes the best fun is hanging out at someone’s home, with drinks, food, movies, games or whatever, and girl talk! As much as I’m dreading the cold weather, I’m looking forward to inviting some girlfriends over, building a fire (a requirement with my new home!), serving snacks, pouring drinks and enjoying time with friends – perfect indoor fun.

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Fitness class: While not everyone loves to work out, many of my friends are willing to try classes if someone goes with them. And I’m usually ‘that friend’ who is game to try something new! Indoor cycling, Zumba, Pilates, yoga, boxing, water aerobics, whatever. There are SO many choices of fitness classes (almost too many) and it’s always better with a partner or three! I love attending Zumba classes for the great exercise I get while dancing to fun music, however, more so lately, I enjoy seeing the girlfriends I’ve made over the years of attending the same class. I even arrive early for the chance to catch up with them, and we meet for happy hour now too (when we aren’t sweaty!).

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Progressive dinners: These can be fun, simple events if you live in close proximity to your girlfriends. Someone hosts the appetizer course, you all move to another house for the main meal and then move to another home for dessert. Have 2-3 women take on a course so it’s more fun, schedule 1-1.5 hours at each stop, and enjoy!

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What are some fun activities you look forward to with your friends?

 

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.

2

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.

2

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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