Heather's Hangout

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

8 reasons I’m excited to bike across Iowa July 12, 2017

HH_bikeLS52017The countdown for leaving for RAGBRAI to join LIVESTRONG in Iowa is quickly getting smaller as the “BIG day” is almost here (eek!). Some days, I can’t wait for the adventure to begin. Other days…..yeah, well, other days I admit I practice my breathing exercises to remain calm. It’s a lot of darn miles to ride on a bike. But I’ve been riding, a LOT. My leg and knee have, thankfully, felt amazing, and my butt, well, it’s getting there (yep, padded shorts and chamois cream are my best friends).

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This ride will be worth the anxiety and nerves. Because at the end of the day, Team LIVESTRONG is raising a lot of money – more than $120,000 so far! (you can help increase that total by donating here) – for programs and services that support people affected by cancer. And I’m personally excited to prove to myself that a thing like bone cancer causing my femur to be replaced with titanium can’t stop me from biking a few hundred miles to help other cancer survivors. (You can read more about why I’m biking across Iowa in this past blog post)

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As the “BIG day” approaches, there are many aspects of RAGBRAI that I’m excited to experience. Here’s a few things that keep me motivated:

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Raising funds for and awareness of LIVESTRONG’s mission, programs and services – LIVESTRONG offers some outstanding programs for cancer survivors, caregivers and people touched by disease. Whether newly diagnosed or out of treatment, the organization provides support at every point of your journey. From direct services to community programs to school programs and more, I’m grateful to know there is so much available to help others. If you haven’t read their manifesto, you should. These words are so powerful to me – “We believe in life. Your life. We believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of your being. And that you must not let cancer take control of it…..Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.” I was stopped in the airport a few months ago by a woman who noticed my LIVESTRONG shirt and yellow wristband and wanted to share how useful the guidebook and journal were during her cancer journey. I love hearing these stories and am happy to be a part of the organization as a volunteer.

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Team LIVESTRONG (aka “my tribe”) – I’m most excited to hang out with this team, my team, my friends, my yellow family. We all start with the common bond of this terrible disease, as cancer survivors, caregivers, family members and friends of cancer survivors, family members and friends who have lost someone to cancer. It doesn’t matter what circumstance brought us together, we have a bond. In addition to this bond that ties us together, these are good people who find many ways to fight against the disease. They commit to spending a week on a bike, raising money for LIVESTRONG’s programs to support others. So no one has to face cancer alone. I’m already in awe of them, and humbled and honored to be part of their team.

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The people I ride for – While there is never a day that goes by that I don’t think of being a cancer survivor in some way, there is also never a day that goes by that I don’t think of the many other people who are also cancer survivors or died from this disease. My dad is always in the forefront of my mind, as I miss him daily. I’ve said good bye to too many people because of this disease, many of them way too young (since I was diagnosed at 21 and treated in pediatrics). I’ve also been blessed to have met thousands of cancer survivors in the past 20 years, all of whom reinforce that our fight against this disease is far from over. So throughout that week, and always, these people will be in my heart and mind.

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The cycling jerseys – Let’s not stereotype – I know it sounds like a girl thing to focus on clothing but that’s not my intent (and, trust me, not all cycling jerseys are fashionable). LIVESTRONG designed an awesome team jersey that we’ll all be wearing on the first and last day to help raise awareness of the organization and team. Then, we’ll wear our tribute jersey, designed in memory of the wife of one of our team members who died from cancer, featuring some of her favorite things. I also have a cool Michigan jersey (that would the state of Michigan, not university…I bleed maroon and gold, friends) and some other fun options. I like seeing the variety of jerseys that others wear. And, okay, yes, you might as well look good if you’re biking 50+ miles in the Iowa heat (or any heat).

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Garmin_LSbandMy personal goal/peace of mind/’take that, stupid cancer’ – I shared in a previous blog the challenges, physical and mental, I face as a bone cancer survivor. Super grateful to be alive and have both of my own legs. But unable to fully quiet the whispers of doubt, frustration and insecurity in my physical limitations from the titanium rod in my leg. I’ll be honest…this training is certainly a good source of confidence building. This experience has also shown me how many people have more faith in my ability than I do. So sometimes I simply need to remind myself that I survived cancer and can do anything I put my mind to. Including bike across Iowa. I’m proud of myself for taking on this challenge and for all of the training and focus I’ve put into it. I get so nervous about hurting my leg that sometimes I forget to simply enjoy the activity or moment. Enough with the doubt and anxiety, it’s time to kick some ass and remind myself who’s in charge of my attitude.

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Biking – Despite the nerves at biking so many miles for multiple days, I’m really looking forward to being on my bike. I love Ruby (my road bike for those who haven’t met her) and the more I ride, the more I enjoy biking. The freedom, the satisfaction of a great workout on my legs, different places to explore on a bike, new people you interact with on the road, adventures in the making. I’m also excited to ride with so many people from LIVESTRONG, getting to know them better and making memories to hold dear for decades to come.

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Meeting people – It may not surprise you that I talk to people almost everywhere I go (like mother, like daughter. Right, Mom?). Isn’t this one of the beauties of life – learning about all walks of life from a variety of people? You never know who you may meet or what you may learn from others. There will be thousands of people at this event from all across the country so there are bound to be some great encounters!

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Exploring Iowa – I love to travel and explore new places (and old!). Plus, my grandma was born and raised in northern Iowa, my mom spent summers at the family farm and my family took some vacations to the state when I was a young child. So I feel a little kinship to the state. 🙂

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If you’d like to support LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people with cancer, click here to donate to my fundraising page. For every $10 donation increment, you’ll be entered to win a Michigan themed gift bag!

 

5 great Michigan wines for summer July 9, 2017

summerwhitewinesThe warm summer temperatures have provided some lovely evenings to sit outside and enjoy a chilled glass of wine. One of my favorite summer activities (yes, I have a LOT of favorite activities!) is to share a bottle of good wine with friends, enjoying great conversations and laughs. I’m thankful for many of these moments.

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Despite an amazing time in Napa Valley, California exploring several of their local wineries and tasting lots of delicious wines, I still am a big fan of Michigan wines. Besides the fact that there are some great-tasting wines produced here in Michigan, I like supporting my home state businesses. If you’re looking for a variety of crisp, light, flavorful wines to enjoy on the deck, beach, canoe, dinner table, okay, pretty much anywhere, here are a few of my favorite Michigan wines (so far) this summer:

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Domaine Berrien Cellars (Berrien Springs) – Vignoles, semi-sweet wine with light tropical fruit flavors

2 Lads Winery (Traverse City) – Late Harvest Riesling, light on sweetness and cool and crisp to taste

Domaine Berrien Cellars (Berrien Springs) – Seyval Blanc, a fairly sweet wine with aromas of mandarin orange, apricot and honey

Peninsula Cellars (Traverse City) – Kroupa Orchards Cherry Wine, made with black sweet cherries to provide a beautiful aroma and great taste

Left Foot Charley (Traverse City) – Missing Spire, a not too sweet late harvest Riesling

 

The best date June 25, 2017

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 8:03 pm
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This pilot can’t quite see over the controls!

I admit it’s been a long time since I’ve gone on a date that truly excites me. It’s been some time since I’ve sat across from a guy who likes me as much as I like him, or vice versa. Dating isn’t easy, especially when you have a good idea of what you want, and, maybe more importantly don’t want, in a relationship.

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So it was a fun, refreshing outing today with…..my handsome, funny, goofy, smart, talkative nephew. 🙂 (sorry, family, for the tease.) I try to take my nieces and nephew on outings throughout the year, and also try to spend time on individual activities. It was my 8-year-old nephew’s turn so I picked him up for a special date. I love exploring the outdoors and being active with the kids. You may have read my other blog posts about our previous adventures in the woods, geocaching and more. I decided today we would explore the outdoors in the city…..we headed to downtown Detroit to wander through the Michigan DNR Outdoor Adventure Center.

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I visited the Outdoor Adventure Center a few years ago when it first opened (read the

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Learning how to keep forests safe.

blog), and it was BT’s first visit, so I looked forward to it. Plus, it was a gorgeous summer day, which added to my plan to walk Detroit’s riverfront after the center.

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The Outdoor Adventure Center basically brings all of Michigan’s awesome outdoor fun indoors to the city for residents and visitors to learn about and explore. There are hands-on activities, exhibits and simulators. There are also tons of interesting facts throughout the center to learn about Michigan’s outdoors, as well as protecting the environment in general. It’s fun for all ages!

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We checked out some live fish, relaxed in a yurt, “reeled in” a walleye and pike from a fishing boat (great simulator!), walked through a mine shaft, and wandered behind an indoor waterfall (Michigan has more than 150 waterfalls!). We laid down in a small tent to discuss the pros and cons of sleeping in a tent and what happens if it rains, then I watched BT climb a tree and slide down. We discussed the awesome ability of beavers to build such cool dams, and I delighted at his laugh upon seeing a hibernating bear inside of a den.

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Eek! Black bear behind us!

He loved the second floor of the center, where there are numerous hands-on activities and simulators. We discussed recycling and energy conversation inside a small mock kitchen and bathroom. Then we tested each other on the sounds of various frogs and birds. He refused to hold my hand across a suspension bridge (um, I wanted it for MY comfort) but did sweetly come back when I was mid-way to “help me.” He piloted a very small plane used by the DNR to monitor hunting and trapping, and I discovered I might stick with commercial airlines for a while!

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We kicked butt as a team in a hunting game, and I almost bounced out of a dune buggy that he drove (seriously, wear a seat belt!)! His huge smile while driving a snow mobile warmed my heart, and he actually congratulated me when I barely won a mountain bike race (he can be a little competitive). On the third floor, we talked about bald eagles, climbing trees and protecting nature.

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Back on the first floor, we sat around the campfire again while we discussed our next

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Love our time together!

plan. With a decision made, we grabbed some sunscreen, snacks and water from my car and headed to the river. I love walking Detroit’s riverfront! Much work and improvements have been done over the past few years. Many people were using the ride share bikes, as well as sitting on benches and standing along the railing. We wandered a bit, then found a shady spot along the river to eat our snacks, watch the many boats coast by and talk. We discussed summer vacation plans, third grade, his book recommendations for me, when I might get married, Canada, birds, the Coast Guard’s duties, sailboats, Corvettes, his dog, my favorite candy, why I don’t like sour Skittles and much, much more. I truly have an adorable, charming, silly, sweet, intelligent, fun nephew (I’m not being partial, it’s the truth!).

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I knew the day was a success when, as we walked along the river front, BT took my hand and shared how much fun he had with me. And then added with his charming smirk, “My sisters are going to be pretty jealous.” Ah, yes, a successful day.

 

Exploring our nation’s capitol June 14, 2017

washingtonmonumentLast week, I was in Washington DC for the One Voice Against Cancer lobby day to meet with my legislators regarding funding for cancer research and prevention programs. I was honored to be selected by LIVESTRONG to attend this event with more than 100 other advocates from across the nation.

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The experience was awesome and my meetings were positive and hopeful (read about the experience). And I do love being in Washington, DC. I love the history of our nation, watching American and foreign tourists learn about and remember the past (hoping not to repeat some of it). I love the excitement and energy that drifts through the town. I love exploring the different neighborhoods and cultures. I love meeting with our legislators and their staff to work together to change the tide for people touched by cancer.

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After a whirlwind of meetings, I decided to stay an extra day for a bit of sightseeing and fun. It was a bright, sunny, cool day in DC. After breakfast at Bob & Edith’s Diner, we started our exploration by heading toward the National Mall.

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No matter how many times I visit Washington, DC, I love touring the national monuments, museums and memorials. I’m always a little in awe of how large these monuments are….large and impressive in their architecture, construction and meaning. I get reflective, motivated, and emotional thinking of the situations that stirred such thoughts and speeches from these historical figures. So many of the quotes are as meaningful and relevant to the world today as they were when spoken decades ago. I would love to know that our current elected officials walk through these memorials at least once a year, but alas, I truly wonder how many of them have never visited. I think it would be a good reminder of the honor, and major responsibility, of representing the American people.

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The Washington Monument greeted us, standing tall with blue skies above and American flags surrounding it. We walked around toward Thomas Jefferson’s Memorial, overlooking a tidal basin from the Potomac River. People relaxed on the steps, enjoying the breeze, while others were on paddle boats and kayaks in the basin. We then walked to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, which leads you through the historic years of his terms. FDR’s memorial leads to inspiring and memorable quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr and a large statue of the man.

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It never fails that I get emotional walking through the Korean War Memorial, with the statues of soldiers ‘walking’ through the greenery and the images of men and women engraved on the wall. I can’t help but touch these images, wondering who they represent, who came home, who didn’t. No matter how many times I walk through the memorial, tears always fill my eyes and my heart beats in gratitude for all those who served to protect us and also sadness for those lost. The emotions continue through the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and World War II Memorial. This is one of my favorites as I love standing near the center, looking around at the wreaths representing every state, knowing all of these make up our great country. As we wandered through the memorials, veterans of all ages from many of our wars also toured each memorial. I can’t begin to imagine their thoughts or memories. I can only be grateful for their service and sacrifices.

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Mainelobsterroll_beerWe stopped at Luke’s Lobster in Penn Quarter for lunch where I enjoyed my first Maine lobsterroll and poppyseed coleslaw, along with my first Allagash craft beer from Maine. It was all delicious!

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I really enjoyed wandering Dupont Circle. I liked the small businesses, homes, ambiance of the neighborhoods. It was busy and hip, yet still resembled a quiet, historic neighborhood. We discovered two neat record stores, filled with albums that brought back many fond memories of listening to great music with my parents. We enjoyed drinks and deviled eggs on the outside back deck at Exiles Bar. They were smoking some great smelling meat. We unfortunately made a quick exit when a woman lit a cigarette near us and we realized the outdoor deck is also a smoking area (so glad that Michigan doesn’t allow smoking outside when food is also served).

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We took the Metro (underground subway system) back to Crystal City where OVAC lobby day was hosted at the Marriott. It was fun riding the Metro many times while in DC. It gets so busy at certain times of the day (especially work day mornings!). Michigan does not have good public transportation, certainly nothing like the Metro, and I wish we did. I finally felt like I was getting the Metro down by the time I had to head home….well, okay, I sort of felt like I was getting the Metro down! I might have gotten on one (or two) wrong trains had my friend not nicely asked where I was going (when everyone else was headed the other way). Well, I would have figured it out eventually. And if nothing else, there’s adventure in exploring the places you didn’t plan on visiting!

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We ended the trip with final drinks at Highline (above McCormick’s & Schmick), which has a great open bar with live acoustic music and plenty of space to relax and socialize. I can picture many fun happy hours occurring in this space.

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It was a great day of exploring new areas and stepping into the past for reminders of all we’ve been through as a country. And just like I’m confident in our ability to make great strides in our fight against cancer, I’m also confident in our ability as citizens to find our way back to a country of kindness, good leadership and smart decisions that help many, not just a special few.

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One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Advocating with one voice against cancer June 12, 2017

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Ready to make a difference!

I had an amazing experience last week. I had the privilege, honor and fun of representing LIVESTRONG at the One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) lobby day in Washington, DC. I joined more than 100+ advocates from 35 states to have over 160 meetings with our legislative officials to ensure fighting cancer is a priority for our government.

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One Voice Against Cancer is a collaboration of national non-profits delivering a unified message on the need for increased cancer-related appropriations. OVAC has made great strides in getting Congress to increase funding for cancer research and prevention programs. But of course, the work is far from done. Not when one out of four deaths in the U.S. will be caused by cancer. I’ve been fortunate to advocate with several organizations in DC in the past. Last year, I attended OVAC with LIVESTRONG, refreshing my energy and drive to make a difference (read about last year’s experience!). So I was very excited to be selected to attend again.

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I have always been interested in politics and love advocating on behalf of others affected by this disease. I wouldn’t say that I feel an obligation as a bone cancer survivor, yet I feel so grateful and blessed to be alive that it fills me with a deep satisfaction and I truly thrive in the environment. It’s so empowering and rewarding as a cancer survivor to work with other advocates, our elected officials and their staffs to make cancer research, prevention, programs and healthcare a priority. I have always believed that it take one person to make a positive change and I’m giddy when I think of the tremendous outcomes possible when all of us work together for positive change.

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Our asks to our legislators included (check out the full details):

  • Support $36.2 billion for the National Institutes of Health
  • Support $6 billion to the National Cancer Institute
  • Support $514 million for the Centers for Disease and Control cancer prevention programs

Two other women from Michigan attended OVAC so we teamed up to attend five meetings with our various senators and Congressmen. All our legislators agreed that funding for cancer research and prevention is critical and also agreed that any slowing or cutting of funds would mean death for too many people. We know this budget process is going to be….challenging, to say the least, so we, of course, will continue to follow with the offices to ensure our representatives stay committed to helping millions of people.

This trip was also a bit poignant for me….last Thursday was 20 years since I started

OVAC_MIstats

Millions of reasons to advocate.

chemotherapy for bone cancer. I can vividly recall being at the hospital, port inserted in my chest and IV drip starting, waiting for the throwing up to begin and my hair to fall out (throwing up started four days later, my hair fell out six days later). To be in DC, almost exactly 20 years later, advocating for other cancer survivors and representing those no longer with us truly felt like a beautiful full circle.

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One of my favorite pieces of this experience is, of course, the people who also attend as staff and advocates. We all come with our individual stories, whether we’re cancer survivors, caregivers, family members, friends of someone facing the disease. Yet we immediately have this common bond of cancer touching our lives, bringing us together in the fight. Each person’s story weaves into my heart and stays with me as I walk into legislative meetings and after I return home. Many of these people have become good friends, creating those bonds you know will travel long into your life. In these people, I actually smile at cancer because through the tears, sadness, anxiety and stress that cancer causes, I think of these friends and feel joy and laughter. Cancer causes such chaos and the people I meet are the beauty, the anchors to the chaos.

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I was also honored to be asked to share my cancer story as our send-off speech. My cancer story can’t be shared without sharing my dad’s story, as our treatments and outcomes are forever intermingled. Both my dad and I are examples of the impact of cancer research and treatment. Not so many years before my diagnosis, amputation was a common treatment option. Thankfully, research, better treatment protocols and new technology led to advances in killing tumors and trying limb salvage so that my femur and part of my tibia were replaced with titanium rather than amputated.

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Sharing my family’s cancer stories

My dad wasn’t given a good prognosis when we received his multiple myeloma diagnosis. However, research and new treatment options kept us one step ahead of his cancer for six years, until there were no more new drugs to try. But I will forever be grateful for those six years with him, precious moments to create so many memories to hold in my heart and mind. I know that he is beside me every time I walk into an office to ask for support.

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These are a few reasons that I advocate for funding for cancer research and prevention. There are millions more…..more than 1.7 million Americans will hear “You have cancer” this year, and more than 15.5 million cancer survivors will learn to navigate their new normal. Families and friends will say good bye to an estimated 1,645 people a day. So, yes, my friends, there is a lot of motivation to get involved.

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Attending this year’s OVAC was another wonderful experience working to help others. I never tire of these experiences, for I am alive to celebrate another day. And I believe that each success we have ensures thousands of others will be alive to celebrate too.

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You can get involved helping others touched by cancer too. If you don’t want to attend meetings or go to DC, that’s ok. We need people to send emails, make phone calls, use social media and do many other things too. Check out LIVESTRONG’s advocacy efforts, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network also does a lot of work on state and federal issues.

 

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.

 

Biking on a race track May 14, 2017

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 2:43 pm
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Biking on the Grand Prix course!

My friends and I decided to head downtown today for a bike ride on Belle Isle Park, one of my favorite places to bike in the morning. The 982-acre island in the Detroit River offers a paved 6.5-mile bike path, plus many interior roads, so it’s easy to get some distance after a few loops. We looked forward to the promise of a beautiful weather day and hanging out together while on our bikes. We didn’t, however, plan for the start of preparing for the Detroit Grand Prix to be held June 2-4, 2017 on Belle Isle.

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If you’re a racing fan or history buff…..the Detroit Grand Prix started in 1982 as a Formula One race through downtown Detroit (that doesn’t sound safe to me!). It moved to Belle Isle in 1992 and was held annually until 2001. It occurred sporadically through the years until 2012 and has been held annually since with a variety of races held during the weekend, including the IndyCar Series.

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A lot of set up has already occurred for the race, including cement barricades for the track,  grandstands set up, sponsor banners and tents in place, and more. There is lots of high fencing up, I’m assuming to protect spectators during the race, but it kind of blocks your view of the river and nature. The track and festivities are set up on the west side of the island so once you get closer to the east end, the stands, banners and other event melee end. There were a lot of geese with adorable babies so I feel bad for them on race weekend. So loud and chaotic. I hope they hunker down on the other side of the island!

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We made the most of the obstacles and laughed at biking on a race track. After all, it’s not every day that you get to ride through a Grand Prix race track…on your bike! And your new Chevy SUV, which I thought was fun since Chevrolet is the major sponsor. We had a beautiful day to bike throughout the island and added some good mileage to our ride. I remembered how fun it is to ride with a group of people and how easy it is to rack up miles because you’re distracted talking and enjoying the time with others. It was a great start to the day.

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Now I’m off to celebrate my awesome mom! Wishing all of the moms a wonderful Mother’s Day!

 

 
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