Heather's Hangout

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

Why we need one voice against cancer March 16, 2017

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Meeting with Sen. Gary Peters to discuss cancer care.

Unless you don’t own a television, aren’t on social media (or the Internet) or perhaps live under a rock, chances are that you’re aware of the hot topic of health care. As a cancer survivor, it’s a topic dear to my heart as I’m most likely affected, as well as more than 16 million other survivors, by any changes to the current law. And that’s just cancer survivors. Add in millions of others affected by different pre-existing condition circumstances and health issues, seniors, and others, and, well, it’s a major topic. Many people are turning their heads because they don’t like politics. But this topic isn’t about politics. It’s about taking care of people.

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Politics has been a bit of an interest for me since I was young. I loved my high school government class, was elected to our student senate and even got to serve as mayor of my hometown for a day! In college, my interests waffled between being a travel writer, communications director/press secretary for a politician or lobbying firm, or running for office myself. When I was diagnosed with bone cancer my senior year in college, my interests turned to healthcare and cancer advocacy, whether as a career or volunteer efforts.

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Last year, I had the great opportunity to attend the One Voice Against Cancer Lobby Day in Washington, DC as a LIVESTRONG advocate (read about that awesome experience here). I’m honored, flattered and thrilled to share that I will again attend OVAC in June with representatives from many organizations, including LIVESTRONG, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Susan G. Koman, Sarcoma Foundation of America and many others. I’m excited to be able to meet with my congressional representatives and their staff to discuss cancer and healthcare issues. It’s critical to keep cancer as a healthcare priority, ensuring coverage for people with cancer and funding for screenings, research, treatment advances, survivorship care and more. I’m also excited to once again come together with the other advocates who are passionate, kind, intelligent and dedicated people. I am a better person when I leave these gatherings, having engaged with such inspiring people.

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I’m always a little fascinated when people ask why I volunteer so much and wonder how I

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Research gave us extra special time with this guy.

can enjoy advocating on tough issues. Sure, I admit it can be mentally and emotionally draining at times. Not everyone I meet has a happy ending, not all issue outcomes swing the way we want. But I am never alone, for great people stand beside me all the time. And I believe we can make a greater difference if we work together for change. It takes one person to make a difference in someone’s life, and one person to make a change and start a movement that could positively impact someone. I’m alive and able so figure why shouldn’t I be that one person?

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I became even more determined to be a voice for cancer survivors when my dad was diagnosed and then died from the disease. Once during my cancer treatment, I rested on the couch as my dad sat beside me, holding my hand. Then he said he prayed every day that he could take my cancer from me. I got so mad at him for that and made him promise, even pinky-swear, that he would never do that again. As much as cancer sucked and unnerved me, I would never want anyone to take that burden. Less than three months after that conversation, I was told my tests were coming back cancer-free. And my dad was diagnosed with late stage multiple myeloma. It devastated me. And deep down, survivor’s guilt bloomed. Yes, I know my dad didn’t have the power to magically take my cancer, yet that doesn’t stop those moments from being laser-cut into my brain and replaying every so often. It was another motivation to become active in cancer advocacy and policy. Because if he could be willing to stand up for me, then I could certainly continue his fight, my family’s fight, and stand up for others touched by this terrible disease.

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I recognized years ago, as a young adult cancer patient facing many serious issues and decisions, that I had the chance to live beyond my cancer and save my leg, because someone else once had the courage to stand up for others. A researcher had the opportunity to develop new cancer drugs. Surgeons had the ideas to test cadaver bones, then titanium rods to try to prevent amputations. My dad was told he had maybe three moths time when he was first diagnosed. Thanks to a wonderful oncology team, his stubbornness and zest for life, and new treatments and drugs, he lived six years. My family had more time with my dad because someone else stood up in the past to push for change. I am committed to pushing for more research for cancer drugs and treatment so another daughter can get more time with her dad. I realized so many years ago that I wanted to be one of the people who held tight to the baton as it was passed and help make a difference in others’ lives.

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Love visiting DC!

Consider these healthcare facts:

  • More than 16 million people are cancer survivors in the United States. It’s expected to increase to more than 20 million by 2026.
  • Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease. This means 1 of every 4 deaths is from cancer.
  • It is estimated that 41 out of 100 American men and 38 out of 100 American women will develop cancer during their lifetime.
  • More than 52 million Americans had a pre-existing condition in 2015, meaning they would be at risk in obtaining health insurance coverage without this protection in the healthcare bill.
  • More than 1.7 million new cancer cases are expected to occur and approximately 600,000 cancer deaths are projected in 2017.
  • 117 million Americans have a chronic condition.
  • Preventive health screenings have helped lower rates of certain cancers, including colon, rectal, cervical and breast.
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When I read this facts, I know that our work isn’t done. Far from it. We’ve made great advances in treatment and survival rates, but when people are still being diagnosed and dying from the disease, then we keep working. These people need health insurance, access to care and preventive screenings. I encourage you to get involved….call your representative to share your thoughts on the proposed new healthcare bill, more funding for health screenings, access to care and whatever else is important to you. Let’s work together to make a difference.

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Need more tips for being an advocate for others? Read my previous blog post.

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Interested in becoming a cancer advocate? Check out LIVESTRONG and the American Cancer Society Cancer Advocate Network.

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Sources: American Cancer Society, Kaiser Family Foundation, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, National Cancer Institute. US Capitol: © Joegough | Dreamstime.com

 

A love for Detroit sports March 8, 2017

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Fun at the Detroit Pistons game!

If you’re a sports fan, living in metro Detroit is a good thing. You have your pick of professional sports teams and a host of collegiate teams. There’s no promise that any of these teams will be great all the time (or at all) but you at least get the enjoyment of having a home team to cheer on during games. I know there are many cities that have team spirit but there is nothing quite like being part of Detroit’s love of our teams.

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My dad was a big sports fan (although he often complained of the huge salaries that professional players receive). My sisters and I grew up to be fans of the Detroit Red Wings, Tigers, Lions and Pistons. And we were not raised to be ‘fair-weather fans.’ No, we stand beside our teams even through the most painful, defeating games and seasons (and we’ve faced many of those with certain teams!). My childhood memories are filled with mental images of listening to the Lions and Tigers’ games in the garage with my dad, driving home from the cider mill on a Sunday afternoon while the Lions’ game played on the radio, and staying up past bedtime to watch the Bad Boys win another basketball playoff game. My parents often hosted football watching parties. My grandmother was a diehard Red Wings fan and could spout statistics more accurately and faster than most sportscasters. When I finished chemo and during recovery of my second leg surgery, many of my dad’s colleagues and business partners had season tickets to the Red Wings and Pistons so my younger sister and I could often be found at these games.

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So it’s with a little nostalgia that I recognize that two of our sports stadiums are closing after their current seasons. The Detroit Red Wings will leave  Joe Louis Arena and the Detroit Pistons will end their season at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Both teams will be moving to the new Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit.

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Awesome Red Wings game!

I was lucky to take in a final game at each location before the end. My friend and I attended a great Wings’ game a few weeks ago, with an exciting win during an overtime shootout. It was his first game at the Joe and my last. The Joe holds many memories for me. My sisters and I have attended many hockey games, concerts and other entertainment shows at this iconic stadium. I recall being on crutches and hiking up the outdoors stairs. I remember hugging strangers when the Wings made the playoffs one season.

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A few days ago, my niece and I attended a Pistons game at the Palace. It was her first time at a Pistons game and my last game at this stadium. And guess what? The Pistons won! It was actually a pretty exciting game. The Palace too holds lots of fun memories of sports games, concerts, Disney on Ice shows, and many other entertainment shows. I smile when I think of all the memories that I have from this place, many with my family.

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While our memories will soon end at these longtime stadiums, I also remember Tiger Stadium before Comerica Park and the Silverdome that came before Ford Field. So I know that all of us Detroit sports fans will get used to the new stadium, as we did the ones that we’re leaving when they were shiny new locations (my true hope is that the cities won’t let these huge buildings fall to disrepair and gloom as the other stadiums have sadly become). Unfortunately, neither of these Detroit teams are ending their current seasons very well. We can only hope that the new stadium will bring much good luck to them, and all of their fans. Because that, my friends, is the spirit of Detroit. I look forward to the fun memories to come.

 

We should all speak up for others March 6, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 9:00 am
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Let’s support each other.

This post is a little out of the ordinary from what I typically share, but it’s something I believe to be important so bear with me. I joined a sorority when I was in college. While the Greek system has its stereotypes, and admittedly some groups live up to those, I didn’t party nonstop with my sisters. We had required study hours, community service projects, chapter guidelines, and other requirements. And well, yes, social time! I joined a sorority to make new female friends and be part of a wonderful sisterhood. Many of these women became dear friends and still are, as well as the new sisters I’ve met as an alumna. It was a great experience for me as I adjusted to being away from home and family. After graduation, I joined the local alumnae association, where I now sit on the executive board. Throughout my collegiate and now alumnae years, I am always in awe of the many amazingly smart, kind, savvy and motivated women who I am honored to call sisters.

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One of the things that makes me most proud of being an Alpha Chi Omega is that our national philanthropy is raising awareness of and prevention of domestic violence. Over the years, my AXO sisters and I attended special programs about prevention and recognizing signs of domestic violence, hosted fundraisers for local domestic violence shelters and collected items for the shelter. We heard brave and devastating stories from survivors and victims’ families. All of these experiences have touched my heart. Domestic violence can affect anyone. Neither gender, race, education, religion or economic level matter in abuse. Physical abuse is not the only type of abuse. Mental and emotional abuse can have lasting effects on the victim, and is often harder to identify. It is stupidity to state that ‘a strong woman wouldn’t let herself be a victim’ because anyone can become a victim. It is often a topic that society doesn’t want to address. We see it too often in our media and even in our social circles when people either brush it off, make jokes or pretend it can’t/won’t happen to someone they know.

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My alumnae chapter is hosting our annual domestic violence awareness event this week. We selected HAVEN as our local charity. HAVEN provides shelter, counseling, advocacy and educational programming to nearly 20,000 people in metro Detroit each year. Our chapter had the privilege of touring the new shelter last year and we were so impressed with all that the organization provides, and incredibly moved by the facts and statistics that we learned.

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We ALL can play a role in preventing domestic violence. Educate yourself on the facts, don’t blame a victim, stand up against racism, sexist and homophobic jokes and comments, treat all people with respect, hold your friends accountable when they disrespect women and girls. I sometimes fear that our society is forgetting the easy, basic manners of respect and kindness. It’s up to each of us to remind ourselves and others of these.

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Here are some facts to know about domestic violence:*

  • Domestic violence occurs when one person uses controlling behaviors against another (an intimate partner) to maintain power and control. It can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and stalking.
  • More than one million people report a violent assault by a partner every year in the U.S.
  • One out of three Michigan families are impacted by domestic violence.
  • One out of four women will be abused by a current/former partner at one point in their lives.
  • Domestic violence can be attributed to 50% of the homeless cases among women and children.
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HAVEN has some great tips on how you can help prevent domestic violence and abuse. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please contact HAVEN or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233).

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*Sources: U.S. Department of Justice; HAVEN; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

 

Good books are difficult to put down March 3, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 3:45 pm
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It’s no secret that I love to read. When I need to relax, escape from the real world or decompress, I pick up a book.

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backmanbookI love being part of book clubs because I learn about books that I otherwise might not know about (gasp!). One such author is Fredrik Backman. I recently read two of the Swedish author’s books and loved both. They were funny and touching. I learned about his book, My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, from one of my book clubs so was happy that the library had it immediately available.

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My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry is about a young girl and her grandmother. The young girl, Elsa, is a bit of loner without friends at school, she gets picked on and is smart and sassy. Her grandmother is eccentric, wild and does her own thing. When she dies (not giving it away as it’s part of the summary on the book!), she leaves a series of notes that takes Elsa on adventures. The reader is introduced to many fairy tales and characters, which all fall into place as the book progresses (so don’t stop reading!). This was a book that made me laugh aloud, cry, think about life and love, cheer for certain characters and boo others. I was almost sorry when the book ended.

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As soon as that book ended, I looked up Fredrik’s other books. A Man Called Ove received many great reviews so I added that to my list. As luck would have it, I went to an event with a sorority sister who handed me a copy of the book that she received as a present. I was touched that she thought of me when she finished, knowing how much I love to read. I’ll admit I lost several hours of sleep to this book as I couldn’t put it down at night! The book focuses on Ove, a seemingly cranky man. But of course there’s more to this man than the surface and you soon get glimpses of his kind side as you encounter his neighbors and learn about his life. While I realize this is a fiction book, there were many moments that made me get choked up and believe in true love.

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Both of his books are the type of books that make me pause after reading the last page, enjoying and processing the lessons, characters and emotions. A sign of a great author!

 

Jolly time visiting downtown Detroit February 24, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 4:35 pm
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detroitriverDetroit has been blessed with some beautiful warm, sunny weather days. Great reasons to head downtown to explore the city.

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On a recent exploration, a friend and I first stopped at the river walk to wander along the Detroit River, wave to our Canadian neighbors in Windsor (okay, maybe I’m the only one who does this!) and learn a little history while we soaked up some much needed vitamin D. There were several others with the same idea – I love seeing people getting outdoors to enjoy the downtown area.

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After a nice walk in the fresh air, we headed north on Woodward Avenue. We checked out the progress on the new Little Caesars Arena where the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons will soon play. As we neared Wayne State University, we stopped on Canfield Street to explore some more. And we did a little daydreaming as we wandered through the Shinola store. This Detroit-based company makes me pause beside soft leather handbags, awesome custom built bicycles, fun accessories and of course cool watches. I admit that I eyed a watch (or two) before willpower kicked in and made my wallet stay tucked inside of my purse (for now).

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jollypumpkinWe next wandered into Third Man Records, offering great selections of music. Originally founded by Detroit-native Jack White (of The White Stripes), the store showcases an array of vinyl records from amazing artists, record players, accessories and more. A listening booth, record booth, stage, and lounge were highlights for me. I love the eclectic vibe of this store.

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Next door to Third Man Records is Jolly Pumpkin Brewery. We of course needed refreshments after all the wandering! I love visiting Jolly Pumpkin on Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, and have also dined at the Ann Arbor location. This was my first visit to the Detroit location. Jolly Pumpkin serves their own craft beer plus North Peak Brewing Company. They also have a variety of spirits. Oh and food. I enjoy both Michigan-based brands of craft beer, plus the relaxed atmosphere at all of their locations. I will definitely return.

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It was fun to check out the Michigan companies and enjoy the great weather with great company. All in all it was another fun adventure in downtown Detroit. Get there when you have the chance to explore, eat, drink and have fun!

 

Travel planning tips February 20, 2017

Travel planning tips

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Traveling has always been a favorite activity. When I was younger, I loved our family getaways (and still do!) and now as an adult, ‘travel’ is a definite budget line item goal so I can afford to plan my own trips and choose new destinations. I love exploring new locations, learning new cultures (even those local cultures in the U.S.!), trying new activities and simply getting away from life’s daily responsibilities and grind.

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There are many factors that help make a trip memorable, fun and smooth. I truly believe that the people you travel with are the greatest factors in a successful trip. Finding someone/some people who are flexible, easy going and can ‘go with the flow’ if snafus happen can make or break a trip. I recall one of my backpacking trips to South Manitou Island with a group of friends – we woke one morning to thunderstorms and hard rain. Three of us girls piled into a tent and spent a few hours sharing stories, laughing, braiding hair and basically making the most of the unplanned event. When the storms cleared, the planned hikes and fun resumed but it was awesome to be with people who shrugged at the circumstance and moved on.

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Hiking outside of Las Vegas

Traveling solo can be fun too. You can set your own plans and pace, and either do as much or as little as you want without worrying about keeping everyone happy.

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Regardless of how and who you travel with, the advance planning of a trip will help ensure you have a smooth, enjoyable time once you arrive at your destination. Here are a few tips to get you started:

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1. Be prepared to spend some time doing research. Whether it was Maui, Ireland, Alaska or somewhere in Michigan, I took the time to check out local websites and read reviews. This up front research helped me know some local spots, things to be cautious about, and feel a bit more comfortable with a new area. This was especially important when I went to Ireland, as despite it being an English-speaking country, it was still a foreign country with different cultures, currency and customs.

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2. Check out the homes, cottages and condos available on rental sites, such as Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO.com), Air BnB, HomeAway.com and others. I found the awesome oceanfront Maui condo on VRBO, thanks to the suggestion of a friend. These options can sometimes be more affordable, spacious and cozier than a standard hotel (I especially like having the option of buying your own food and making meals when you want). Some questions to consider: When were the pictures taken? If there’s a kitchen, what’s included (dishes, coffee, detergent, etc.)? Are laundry facilities available? Is there a local person to contact if something happens? Is there a cleaning fee and other fees not included in the listed nightly fee?

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3. Read reviews. I like to find a potential facility on TripAdvisor to get some feedback. VRBO usually also has guest reviews of each facility. Keep in mind that these reviews are subjective (what one person finds lacking may not be a big deal to another). However, if consistent problems or concerns are listed, it might be time to look at another facility. For example, my family was ready to book a location for our summer trip until we skimmed the reviews and noticed a lot of recent complaints about cleanliness and cranky staff. We moved on. Check dates of the reviews to ensure the concerns aren’t from years ago. If you want to pay it forward, write a review after your trip of the lodging, entertainment venue or restaurants you experienced during your trip.

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4. Look for a Groupon or other discounts in the local area for lodging, meals and entertainment. If you’re looking for local ideas at your destination, search Groupon, Living Social or similar online discount sites for discounted tickets, restaurant and activity coupons. There are a lot of great choices. You may find a food spot or activity that you wouldn’t have known about without searching.

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Exploring Alaska, one of my favorite trips.

5. Cash in credit card or airline miles. Many people don’t know that these earned miles aren’t just for airline tickets. Most of the time you can redeem for car rentals, restaurant gift cards, cameras, hotel rooms and more. Make sure you know the redemption rules to check on blackout dates and fees.

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6. Ask for input from friends and family. A plus of social media is the ability to share your personal business with a large group of people at once. Heck, often times, friends of friends can learn your business with the click of a button. Take advantage of this by asking for input, suggestions and reviews on Facebook, Twitter and other sites.

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7. Be flexible. If you can adjust dates and also be flexible in the type of lodging or car you reserve, you may find a better deal. Also, once you arrive at your destination, be flexible in your activities if possible. I like to have some ideas for activities but try not to set too much in stone so I can be ready to try something new if the opportunity arises. When my friend and I went to Riviera Maya, we had zero plans except relaxing at the resort. However, I woke one morning and decided to hike the ruins. It was fun!

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8. Check out Costco or other member companies. While I haven’t personally used Costco to book travel, several friends regularly book rental cars, hotels and more through the big store and assure me that they receive great discounts.

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If you put a little time into the planning portion of your trip, you can relax and have fun on the actual trip. And the golden rule of travel for me is to take life in stride – you’re on vacation, enjoy it! And don’t forget to take pictures!

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What tips do you have for trip planning?

 

Fundraiser benefits cancer survivors February 12, 2017

benefitingls_2cIf you’re in metro Detroit and without plans next Saturday, Feb. 18, please join me for a fun event supporting people touched by cancer!

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I’m hosting a “Rock Your Ride” fundraiser to benefit LIVESTRONG’s programs and services that support people with cancer, caregivers, family and friends. The event is at Cyclebar Troy, a new activity that I recently tried and liked (read my blog).

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Not an avid cyclist? Not an avid fitness seeker? Not a problem! Some of my family and friends were a little hesitant to register since they’ve never participated in a cycling/spin class and don’t regularly exercise. That’s okay! The class is for all fitness levels. You ride at your own pace, so if the instructor says to bump up the resistance or pedal faster, you can do that….or not. It’s all within your comfort zone. As long as you’re pedaling, you’re getting a workout! The music is fast and fun, the instructor is high-energy, the lights are low (kind of my favorite part so people can’t really see me!), and you feel awesome afterward. And the best part of this class? You’re helping support programs and services that provide help to cancer survivors, caregivers and others.

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Your $25 cycling/spin class at Cyclebar Troy includes:

  • 50-minute fun, calorie burning cycling/spin class (with great music and people!)
  • LIVESTRONG yellow wristband
  • Cyclebar water bottle
  • Post-class snacks
  • Happy emotions of helping people touched by cancer

Cycling shoes, towel, lockers, hair bands and changing rooms are also available (no additional fee). Feel free to wear yellow and/or black clothing in support of LIVESTRONG!

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The event begins at 11:45am at Cyclebar in Troy. Everyone MUST REGISTER online to guarantee a spot: http://bit.ly/2gTMqzE

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hh_cyclebarNeed some reasons to join me?

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The event benefit LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people with cancer. The nonprofit offers a wide range of free/low-cost programs and services, including navigation services, fertility assistance, clinical trial matches, public policy advocacy and more. You can read about some of my favorite programs here.

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You’ll get a great workout. Whether you ride hard the entire time, do interval training or stick to your own rhythm, it will be a great workout. The trick with any workout is to always be moving. I admit that I’m usually muscle-burning tired after any Cyclebar class, but it’s a ‘good tired’ feeling, knowing that I burned some mega calories while having fun.

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You’ll hang out with fun people. I mean besides me (ha ha). Several of my family and friends are attending, many who haven’t been to a spin class but are excited to try it out. These people make me smile and laugh on a regular basis so I can’t imagine what laughs will occur during this class. And if you hear someone singing really loud to the great music, um, just ignore that. It’s probably me singing to distract myself from the workout (wink).

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There are some spots left and I’d love to see you there. Don’t forget that advance registration is required – click here to register.

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Hope to see you there and thanks for supporting people touched by cancer!

 

 
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