Heather's Hangout

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

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

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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.

 

20 of my favorite activities May 28, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 12:56 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,
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Ready to explore?

One of my favorite pieces of the start of spring and summer weather is the opportunity to sit outside on the deck, at the park, or anywhere outdoors and enjoy good conversations with family and friends. I’ve been doing that recently and several of our conversations have drifted to what we’d do if we didn’t have to be at the office every day, whether we won the Lotto, retired or some other plan arose to keep us financially independent. It makes me think about all the activities that I would love to do more regularly if I had more time. I don’t think I would get bored!

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Here are 20 of my favorite activities (in no particular order):

    1. Hike
    2. Bike
    3. Read
    4. Garden
    5. Dance
    6. Sing
    7. Write
    8. Make candles
    9. Photography
    10. Geocache
    11. Camp
    12. Wine tasting
    13. DIY craft projects
    14. Relaxing with good people
    15. Beer tasting
    16. Puzzles
    17. Golf
    18. Volunteer
    19. Try new food recipes
    20. Road trips
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What activities keep you busy? What would you try if you had more free time?

 

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!

 

5 favorite activities that spring brings May 7, 2017

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Love hiking in the woods!

The spring weather is slowly trying to make a steady presence in Michigan. The temps have been a sporadic but I’m grateful for the days filled with sunshine and mild temperatures. I’m loving that the days are staying lighter longer. More time to play outside after work and on the weekends!

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With spring comes opportunities to participate in some of my favorite activities. Here are few that I enjoy. What are some of your favorite spring/nice weather activities?

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Biking. I love being on a bike. Whether it’s my road bike or mountain bike, I enjoy the ability to explore the area on a bike. From the physical rush to the mental clearing of my mind to great views to the simple joy of feeling the strength of my legs, biking is definitely a favorite activity. Our mild winter let me get several rides in even during traditional winter months, but it’s much nicer to bike in sunshine and warming temps!

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Hiking. Nothing chills me out faster than spending time on the trails, surrounded by trees, plants and friendly animals. It’s such great physical exercise and mental relaxation, but rarely feels like either since I’m usually enjoying myself so much.

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Logged this geocache find!

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Geocaching. This GPS outdoor scavenger hunt is a fun past time to do with friends, family, or alone when I have some time to spare. I especially love taking my nieces and nephew on this treasure hunt and also logging a cache when I visit new places.

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Gardening. It’s not quite warm enough to plant flowers but it’s soooo close! I’m getting excited to plant bright flowers in my new pots and put them on the porch and deck. Flowers always bring a smile to my face.

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Grilling. Yes, I know that many people grill year-round, even in the snow and cold. But…..I don’t! I have a great new grill that will be often used to make yummy vegetables, burgers, chicken, and much more to enjoy while eating on the deck.

 

Why I’m biking in Iowa for cancer May 5, 2017

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Excited to be part of the team!

Twenty years ago this month, I walked into a clinic as a carefree 21-year-old three months shy of graduating from college. I walked out stunned and terrified as X-rays of my achy knee revealed a tumor growing in the lower part of my left femur. Less than three weeks later, I started chemo for osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. A surgery to replace part of my femur and tibia with titanium, my hair falling out, 13 months of chemo, hundreds of days spent in a hospital bed, 40+ blood transfusions later, I walked out of the hospital a cancer survivor.

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My life had dramatically taken a different direction than planned. Facing your own mortality at 21 forever changes you. In the past 20 years, so many lessons have been learned, challenges faced and overcome, tears shed, and laughter bubbled out. Part of this 20-year journey was becoming an advocate for other people touched by cancer. From mentoring patients to meeting with legislators in Lansing and DC to speaking about young adult survivorship around the country, I am blessed and grateful to be alive to help others through their journeys. While a cancer diagnosis will always bring fear, uncertainty and anxiety, I hope to be able to help alleviate a little of those feelings by making sure programs, services and support are available to everyone.

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Which is a big reason that I’ve supported LIVESTRONG for many years. LIVESTRONG provides a multitude of programs and services to people affected by cancer (Read about some of my favorite LIVESTRONG programs). Many of you know I was so excited to be selected as a LIVESTRONG Leader volunteer this year, allowing me to take an even more active role in advocating for cancer survivors.

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So I decided that, in recognition of my 20-year cancer diagnosis and my

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Miss this sweet man.

commitment/belief in LIVESTRONG’s mission, I’m joining Team LIVESTRONG in a week-long bike ride across Iowa in July. The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, is the world’s oldest, longest and largest recreational bicycle touring event. Thousands of people from around the country and world attend this annual event. You bike from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, camping at host towns each night, enjoying music, food, drinks and great company.

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For the past decade, LIVESTRONG has participated in RAGBRAI, usually hosting a team of 70+ cyclists who raise over $100K each year for these important programs and services. This year, the route is a mere 402 miles, the third flattest and shortest route in RAGBRAI history. I simply laugh when people say this! That is still a LOT of miles to bike! The first day is 62 miles (one moment please while I take some deep, calming breaths….ok, I’m back). My surgeon and I decided that I won’t ride every day, as it’s too much on my left leg with the titanium. Our goal is three days and if my leg feels good after a rest day, I can add another.

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Logging some miles to prep!

If you read my blog about my lovely new road bike, you learned about my experience with Team LIVESTRONG at RAGBRAI last summer and how each member touched by heart and inspired me. From the other survivors to the caregivers to those who lost someone dear to cancer to those who rode just because it’s for a good cause and fun….these people are why I’m registered. And besides, 2017 is My.Best.Year.Ever. So why not bike across Iowa??

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Some of this ride is admittedly personal. Before cancer, I ran miles, rode horses and rarely backed down from a physical challenge. Cancer rocked my world in so many ways. Today, I am consciously aware of the rod in my leg and risks associated with hurting that leg (including losing it). Cancer can still, 20 years later, flood me with anxiety, sadness and frustration. Some days I have to turn from watching someone ride a horse, run, play tennis because I miss these so much. But I know how fortunate I am to have both of my legs. I focus on what I can do – ride a bike, hike in the woods, have dance parties and so much more.

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So in July, I’ll ride to remind myself that cancer can never take my determination, strength, laughter and love of life. I’ll ride for the hundreds of friends who make my tribe courageous and full of life, the many friends and family who cancer took too soon, and my sweet, brave dad who continues to be my hero and always in my mind and heart, even if cancer robbed us of him.

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If you want to support my (crazy) endeavor, please consider donating to Team LIVESTRONG via this link. Any amount supports people affected by cancer. To add a little fun (because life has to be full of fun!), every $10 donation increment will get your name entered into a drawing to win a bag full of Michigan-made goodies (think Saunders, Better Made, McClure’s, etc) from me. I’ll even ship so no need to be local.

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Thanks for your support and being part of this journey with me. Now I’m off to ride a bike!

 

Walking the streets of San Francisco April 30, 2017

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Enjoying the waterfront.

After spending a few days enjoying Calistoga and Napa Valley, we loaded luggage into the car rental and headed west toward Sonoma for our drive back to San Francisco. It was misting a little but still mild temps. We took the ‘scenic’ route back, enjoying conversations and laughs. As we neared the city, we stopped in Sausalito for lunch. Sausalito sits at the northern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has small town charm wrapped in its waterfront downtown with awesome views. I was in awe of the numerous houses nestled on the sides of hills and mountains.

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We walked the downtown (which has a large bike parking lot!) before eating lunch at Scoma’s. The restaurant is located on the waterfront and we scored a great window table. There were many fishing boats on the bay. It was fascinating to watch the fog roll in and out. At one point, the Golden Gate Bridge, which was visible when we sat, ‘disappeared’ from sight due to the fog!

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After an awesome lunch of dungeness crab cakes and sandwiches, we headed across the

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Beautiful Grace Cathedral

bridge into the city. We easily found the Orchard Hotel near Chinatown. The hotel staff was friendly and the room spacious and nice. Then we set off to explore. We were near the “Chinatown Gate” so headed that way. Chinatown was busy! People packed the sidewalks and store after store sold a huge variety of almost any item you may think of. I swear some of these stores had items overflowing from their doors! We walked all through Chinatown, which seemed like sensory overload to me after a few blocks. But cool and fun!

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We shifted our direction and walked toward Nob Hill. Here is where we found the hilly sidewalks that often appear in San Francisco pictures! My friend and I are in decent physical shape and had on comfortable flat shoes, but even we started laughing at one point as we turned corners and encountered another street going up. Our goal was the Top of the Mark, thanks to a recommendation, for drinks and great views. Top of the Mark is located on the 19th floor of the Intercontinental Hotel, offering 360-degree views of the city. So you can imagine our disappointment when we walked into the hotel to discover that a private event had the restaurant closed on that particular day! Ugh. We laughed at our luck and instead wandered around the nearby beautiful Grace Cathedral. Then we indulged my final tourist wish list of riding a trolley!

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Looking down (literally) the street!

The trolley ride was fun…..and a great leg workout. Many people already filled the trolley so I ended up standing for our ride. Since you are going up and down the streets, it takes a lot of balance to not move all around. We laughed at the great workout we were getting and how we would definitely deserve a good dinner and drinks!

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The trolley ride took us to the north side of Fisherman’s Wharf, which was bustling with activity. I just love the energy of this city! It honestly makes me smile. We wandered a lot of different shops, enjoyed listening to several talented street musicians, checked out the retired World War II vessels docked near the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and then rested at a restaurant for happy hour. After refueling our stomachs with great San Francisco craft beer, wine and food, we wandered to North Beach before deciding we deserved a taxi ride back to our hotel. The cab driver was amusing and kind. A brief relaxation provided new energy for another walk around Chinatown before a pizza and beer dinner.

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I’m so glad that we placed downtown San Francisco at the beginning and end of the trip.

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After my trolley ride!

It was fun to explore the bustling city, but nice to have the beautiful open land of the Napa Valley area to soak up the tranquility of Mother Nature. It was a perfect balance of exciting and busy with calm and quiet.

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As we wrapped up our day in San Francisco, I reflected on the adventures. We packed a lot of fun into our days, saw and experienced so many new things, tasted awesome wines and food, soaked in much natural beauty and shed some of life’s stress and overload. I loved San Francisco and the surrounding areas. I will definitely go back.

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Have you been to San Francisco? What’s your favorite area/destination in the city?

 

 
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