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My birthday wishes September 12, 2017

My birthday wishes

Birthdays have always been special days in my family. My parents made each new year fun and happy. We didn’t have bounce houses, farm animals or huge parties like are in excess today, but I loved the sleepovers, house full of family and friends, and laugh-filled celebrations with my favorite Angel food cake.

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When I was diagnosed at 21 with bone cancer, appreciating and celebrating life took on new meanings. I spent my 22nd birthday in the hospital hooked up to an IV of chemo, feeling too nauseous to eat cake (I think my then-pregnant older sister and favorite resident doctor enjoyed my piece!). I promised myself that every birthday from that year on would be a time to reflect on life and remind myself to wrap my arms around the joy of life.

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EEdwards_lifequoteToday, on my birthday, I’m in Washington, DC, ready to join hundreds of other cancer advocates on Capitol Hill in meetings with our various legislators to discuss the importance of increased funding for cancer research and supporting cancer-related programs. It’s a long way to come from that birthday 20 years ago spent in the hospital fighting for my life and leg. A slew of emotions are whirling through me.

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Every year that I celebrate another birthday is a joyous occasion for me. And not one that I take for granted. I will soon have spent more of my life as a cancer survivor than not. What an emotional accomplishment. The past 20 years have been full of ups and downs. I whispered goodbye to my dad as he died from cancer, battling survivor’s guilt almost daily when I think of the life he’s missing. I’ve picked pieces of my heart up more than once, broken sometimes because of my naivete and other times by people I should have been able to trust. I worked tirelessly to remind my body how to walk after surgery…twice. I felt lost and alone many times. I rethought Plan A so many times that I no longer remember what my original life plan was! I’ve learned life is hard. There’s no guidebook, no getting back lost time, no map, no time outs, no re-dos to change something. Sometimes life knocks you flat on your tush. Again and again. And yet…..life is still beautiful. There is sunshine, laughter, kindness, unexpected love, blue skies, hugs, music, mountains, beaches and So.Much.More.

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In January, I dubbed this year as my Best.Year.Ever. Of course I had no idea what the year would bring because I’ve certainly learned you can’t control all that will happen, but I needed goals. And, darn, it’s been a good year. I’m at the lowest weight and best overall health that I’ve been in many years, I logged more miles on a bike than I ever thought possible (the year isn’t over, and I’m already planning how to ride more next year!), I’ve traveled to new places and experienced fun adventures, I’ve been involved with amazing cancer advocacy opportunities with several more exciting possibilities on the horizon, I’ve met so many awesome people and strengthened relationships with people who bring so much joy to my life, and the list goes on. Of course, there are things I’d like to still accomplish with my career and personal life….but there’s still plenty of time left in the year!

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What will a new day bring?

I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone over the years but none more so than almost two years ago when I decided to change the negativity, mundane and discontented cycle my life had slipped into. It was unnerving, very unnerving, to step into the unknown by myself. I had to ignore the doubters and really focus on what I wanted out of life. But I had to do it. For me. And I can honestly say that I didn’t expect to find so much joy, contentment, adventure and satisfaction from those changes. I didn’t realize how much I was holding back happiness until I decided I was worth it and deserved it. Was it easy to leave a relationship and life I thought I wanted and society said I should stay in? Not at all. But I wanted, and needed, to open my heart to the possibility of true love, happiness and real life. And, no, life hasn’t been all sunshine and dancing unicorns; that’s not how life works. But, heck, it’s been good.

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I had a recent conversation with a friend relating to religion and spiritual views. It got me thinking about life in general. It reinforced that just because society says you should think this, or live your life ‘this way,’ the truth is you must do what works for you. And that sometimes is difficult. Because other people may get hurt, or it takes more courage than we’re used to, or others tell us it’s not right, or stepping over that edge into the unknown is heart-stopping. Sometimes, actually often, life takes us on a very unexpected path. Maybe you find a career that you surprisingly enjoy, maybe you meet someone who captures your heart at ‘the wrong’ time (by the way, don’t waste life waiting for the right time), maybe your health doesn’t stay as perfect as hoped. That’s all okay. I know it can be scary, tiring and worrisome. If we let it. Because sometimes the people and experiences we encounter, that are off the ‘traditional path’ of life, are the very ones for us. I’ve learned that often the unexpected moments, plans and people turn out to be exactly what we need to help us find our ultimate path in life, joy and love.

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I’m feeling a bit philosophical this year, and I realize I’m babbling a bit. But, hey, it’s my birthday and sometimes turning a year older makes you pause to think about life. I believe it’s important to check in with yourself every so often.

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What’s my birthday wish? I have a few (again, it’s my birthday so bear with me!). You all find happiness. You find courage to live the life you want. Don’t waste a day. Don’t be afraid to open your heart. Take a chance on adventure and happiness, take care of your health and body, explore the neighborhood and world around you. Share your feelings with people you care about, help someone, be kind, stand up for others. Don’t sit on the couch watching the days go by. When I close my eyes and make my birthday wish, I know what I hope for my life. If you had a wish, what would it be? Think about it…..and go for it!

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Smiles for my dad November 1, 2016

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 8:12 am
Tags: , , , , , ,
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A family filled with love.

I’m so blessed to have amazing people surrounding me in love, especially my mom who has been my biggest protector and supporter since I was born. Yet, there is always a glaring hole in my support system that I can’t help but think of and miss daily. This is a tricky time of year for my family. As we prepare to celebrate the holidays, we know that in years past we also would be celebrating my dad’s birthday. No matter how many years pass without him, the ache of missing him never truly dulls. So today, if you could bear with me, I thought I’d share a few stories about an awesome man.

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My dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the bone marrow, less than a year after my bone cancer diagnosis. If my cancer diagnosis was shocking to me, his was devastating. Here was this young man, not quite 50, the foundation of our family, the strong father given three months to live. Thankfully, my determined mother and stubborn father told the doctors that was unacceptable and searched out new treatment alternatives. Since I was still in treatment, for a few weeks my mom would visit me on one floor of the hospital, then head upstairs to see my dad. Yes, she is forever a heroine in my story.

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I fought my own guilt with his diagnosis for a long time. Several times after my diagnosis, he would hold my hand and whisper a prayer. I once asked him what he prayed for and he responded that he offered to take my cancer away. I was very upset and angry at him for even hinting at that. Cancer was terrible. My chemo treatments slammed my body and kicked my butt. I couldn’t imagine wishing this disease on anyone, let alone one of my beloved family members. So when my dad was diagnosed shortly after I received very promising health results, I admittedly was pretty shaken. My logical brain knew that my brave, strong dad couldn’t will my cancer from my body into his but….my wounded heart questioned it for a long time.

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A great example of love.

The day before his 50th birthday, he was at the hospital recovering from his first stem cell transplant. He told the doctor that all he wanted was to spend his birthday at home with his family. So you can imagine his joy when the doctor walked in the next day and announced he was discharging my dad. What a happy day for all of us! Little did we know that we would only celebrate a few more birthdays with him. But that day, we felt blessed.

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I’m grateful for a childhood filled with love and laughter. My parents created a wonderful home that welcomed everyone, and we often had friends and family stopping in. My sisters and I would even come home to find friends hanging out or playing basketball with our dad! I loved watching my parents together. They weren’t perfect, and I could tell when they were driving each other crazy, but they loved and really respected each other. Not everyone believed in their relationship at the beginning, not even my mom! She turned down his date invitations numerous times before finally saying yes (thankfully!). He said he remained persistent because he just knew that she was the one. He felt a connection that he couldn’t ignore. My parents always made me believe in love. Any time I start to doubt the power of love, I think of them. I am so blessed to have such examples of two people overcoming obstacles for love. It gives me great hope for my future.

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I can’t hear Michael Jackson’s Thriller without thinking of my dad and my best friend’s dad acting like zombies while chasing all of us squealing girls! Pick a song by John Denver, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson, ABBA, Kenny Rogers, The Carpenters and Neil Diamond, and my sisters and I can probably sing every word….and maybe even have a dance for it.

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When I wanted to ride horses at nine years old, my mom agreed (I had a truly stellar sales pitch) but my dad was hesitant. I’m sure money for riding lessons was a concern, but he admitted his greater concern was that I would get hurt. My mom enrolled me in lessons and, shortly after, he became one of my biggest fans. While they had neither the time nor money to devote to my obsession, both of my parents often took turns driving me to the barn after work, helping groom the horse and watch my lessons. My dad was at the barn once when I was thrown off by a particularly feisty horse (that I loved to ride). He was in the arena as fast as my trainer. As I stood and brushed myself off, he held the reins of the bridle. “You ok?” he asked. When I acknowledged I was, he handed me the reins, gave me a leg up into the saddle, looked at the horse and sternly said, “Don’t dump my daughter again.” And that horse never did. While my mom was the ‘go to’ parent with questions and concerns during college, I always knew when it was time for me to go home for a visit because my dad would suddenly call to check in, make sure I was happy, of course studying, no boys were bothering me and remind me how proud he was of my goals.

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DadHH

Pictures capture the special memories.

Once we were both diagnosed with our cancers, we shared a lot of random conversations about life, the challenges of cancer, his hopes for my sisters’ and my futures, and the trips and adventures he wanted to take with my mom. Towards the end of his life, when he accepted his approaching death before any of us, he reminded me that his fight would not be over if he wasn’t here because he would live on in my mom, sisters, me, our kids.

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I often pause in the day to think of him, wondering if he would be proud of the woman I am today. I would like to think so. I would give anything to have one more talk with him, one more opportunity to hear his fatherly advice in that gruff, no-nonsense voice.

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I’ve thought much about my dad recently, of the advice or direction he might give me at this juncture in my life. I have not made the best decisions in the past, sometimes ignoring my gut and my heart, things he always advised against doing. I’m sure he shook his head as I made those decisions. Yet I’m also sure he waited at this juncture, because he always had faith in me to find my way. He believed that of my sisters and me all through our lives.

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A few lessons that my sweet dad taught me during our time together:

  • Do not take life for granted.
  • Don’t ignore what’s in front of you, even if it’s not what society tells you should do or who you should love.
  • Be loyal and kind to others. But don’t let someone take advantage of that loyalty and kindness.
  • Don’t sit idle waiting for life. Take chances, trust your gut.
  • Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Just try to learn from those mistakes. And know that what someone else may think is a mistake, may be exactly what you were supposed to do/learn.
  • You are owed nothing so work hard for what you want. Do not quit on yourself or your goals.
  • Help those who need it because we all have something and some time to give.
  • Laugh, dance and enjoy life.
  • Do not wait to tell someone how you feel about them because the moment may never come again.
  • Offer a smile to others. A few days before my dad died, he told me that my kindness and smile will change the world. Maybe it’s not that easy to change the world, but then again, a smile is one of the easiest (and free!) things we can share with others.
 

41 reasons to love life September 12, 2016

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 1:15 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

41reasonsbdayblog_header

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Birthdays have always been kind of a big deal in my family. My parents made sure every new year was celebrated, particularly the ‘big days’ of turning 10, 13, 16, 18, 21, etc. When I was diagnosed with cancer at 21, birthdays took on a very special meaning and milestone for me, and my family. I recall spending my 22nd birthday in the hospital, sick from chemo and disappointed and frustrated to be sick on my birthday, yet my parents made sure to throw me a small party with family and my nurses packed into my hospital room so I could feel joy and love. It was awesome. Since that day, I welcome and celebrate every birthday. I’m so grateful to be alive!

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Love my family so much!

Many moments and people stick out over the years that have helped make life grand. And while I certainly could fill a few pages with the challenges, hurt, sadness, losses and failures that I’ve faced in life, all of those moments and emotions helped shape me into the person that I am today. I’m okay with that woman. I feel great joy in knowing what I have overcome to be here in this place.

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So on my birthday, I wanted to share 41 items (in no particular order) that are my reminders of what makes life so awesome for me, in the hopes of spreading some optimism and love to each of you. And if you really want to help me celebrate this special day, I ask you to share a smile or act of kindness with someone you encounter today.

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1. Being alive.

2. Feeling content in the moment.

3. Amazingly loving and supportive parents.

4-9. My nieces and nephews who I love like my own children and make me smile daily.

10-12. My sisters and brother in law who always have my back.

13. Fabulous friends who love and support me for me.

14. Giving back to the cancer community that saved me physically, mentally and emotionally many times during and after cancer treatment.

15. Walking, dancing, hiking and more on my own two legs after bone cancer.

16. Waking up every day with strength, courage, optimism and freedom to enjoy life.

17. Riding a bike.

18. Hiking in the woods.

19. Camping under the stars.

20. Dancing in Zumba, my kitchen and anywhere!

21. Loving and trusting my body’s strength (strong enough to survive cancer) and

Paintcreek_HHG

Staying strong to stay healthy – and have fun!

abilities to be active. When I get frustrated at what I can no longer do because of cancer, it reminds me of all that I can.

22. The comfort of a strong hug.

23. Excitement of seeing someone special.

24. The beauty of a horse and the true peace these animals bring to me.

25. Fresh, bright flowers that bring cheer to the day.

26. Happiness of appreciating simple things in life.

27. A good book.

28. Opportunities to emerge myself in new adventures that create great memories.

29. Learning and trying new activities.

30. Working with other cancer survivors and volunteers to make positive change in the fight against cancer and helping others.

31. Watching the sun set and knowing a new tomorrow, filled with new possibilities, is on the horizon.

32. Smile-invoking memories of moments with family and friends.

33. The promise of a loving, fun, supportive friendship/relationship.

34. Laughter, the kind that makes your stomach hurt.

35. Music that strums to your soul.

LakeMI_sunset

Appreciating every day and excited for tomorrow!

36. Quiet time alone to reflect on blessings.

37. Facing fears, sadness, frustrations and challenges with optimism, smiles and hope.

38. Being loved.

39. Falling in love.

40. Confidence in yourself and your decisions.

41. The exciting anticipation of what’s to come – the people who will join you, new adventures to experience, and days filled with love, laughter and good health.

 

40 reasons to love life (and birthdays) September 11, 2015

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I can hardly believe that my 30s are rapidly coming to an end and a new decade is upon me. In a few days I will turn 40 years old. Wow. That age once seemed so far away.

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Explore the land around you.

Explore the land around you.

Birthdays are a big deal in my family. Always have been, but especially so after my cancer diagnosis and my dad’s death from cancer. I spent my 22nd birthday in the hospital with an IV dripping chemo into my veins (although my entire family filled my hospital room to sing me happy birthday, even if I felt too terrible to eat much cake). I vowed to never complain about my age because it is blessing to be alive to celebrate another day, let alone another year. Of course, I still contemplate life and what I’ve accomplished in my almost 40 years on the planet. Sure, surviving cancer is a major accomplishment (although what choice did I have except to fight like hell?) but, honestly, I want to be known for more than cancer, for being a cancer survivor is just a piece of who I am. Some days I know exactly what I want in life, and other days those goals seem to allude me. Some days I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in almost 40 years. Other days I get frustrated that I haven’t achieved more. And I don’t mean collecting material things. More focus on happiness, contentment, friendship, love and laughter. I want to explore the world, make a difference in the lives of others, and be a good person. I want fulfillment in relationships, family, a career and even with myself.

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On the eve of my 40th birthday, I am stepping back to review my life. I’m satisfied with many pieces of it, and restless with others. I’m happy with pieces of who I have become, and will strive harder to change or improve other pieces. Life is a constantly evolving state. I’m thankful to be part of it. In my reflection, these are some of the lessons I’ve learned through (almost) 40 years:

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Climbing to the top of a sand dune - very rewarding!

Climbing to the top of a sand dune – very rewarding!

1. Feel grateful for every minute you are alive.

2. Stop judging people. Don’t judge people because they aren’t like you, don’t like the same things or choose a different path in life. You don’t know their lives.

3. Don’t cyber-bully. Think twice before posting that Facebook or Twitter criticism. Hiding behind a computer screen is weak.

4. Accept your past. It happened, it’s over, learn from it, move on.

5. Live in the present, plan for the future.

6. Save money. Achieve a good credit score.

7. Dance like no one is watching, even if someone is. It will make you happy.

8. Have date nights with your significant other. Make sure you take turns planning the date.

9. Show appreciation for someone’s nice gestures to you, even if it’s not quite what you’d do or want. At least they’re trying.

10. Say please and thank you.

11. Pay attention to your finances, even if you’re married. You should always know how much money you have and how much you can save.

12. Don’t ditch your friends because you found a spouse or had a baby. Honor and value the friends who have been there through good and bad, and probably would continue to be there if you made an effort too. I can guarantee you probably still have much in common if you look hard at your friendship.

13. Don’t exert energy on people who don’t care.

14. Laugh. A. LOT.

Enjoy life.

Enjoy life.

15. Know your way around a library. Knowledge is power.

16. Ask a child what he/she wants to do for fun, then do it.

17. Have a play date with a child without using technology or buying them a toy. Use your imagination!

18. Explore outside of your city.

19. Explore outside of your state. We have an AMAZING country.

20. Watch a sunset and sunrise.

21. Have friends of the same sex and spend time together. There is nothing like girlfriends to keep you grounded, happy and supported (I imagine men feel the same about their guy friends).

22. Ride a horse at least once in your life. These beautiful creatures are gentle and majestic.

23. Find a job you enjoy and commit to it. Be proud of your work and build relationships by being kind, professional and fair.

24. Treat people how you want to be treated. Learn to apologize when you’re wrong.

25. Send cards for special occasions or just because. Real cards that require an envelope and postage. Yes, these still exist.

26. Forgive yourself. Forgive others.

27. Don’t take love for granted and don’t assume someone knows how you feel. Say it, show it.

28. Call someone – not text, email or Facebook message – and have a conversation about life. Actually use your phone to make a call and hear the voice. It’s so much better than a text conversation.

29. Take care of your health. Don’t skip the doctor. You only get one body.

30. Help someone out each day. A simple gesture, such as holding the door open, is a kind gesture. Kindness builds great societies.

31. Take time to talk to older people. They carry pieces of our history, and often share great stories.

32. Smile more.

33. Count at least five blessings each day.

34. Call your parents at least once per week (my mom would say more!).

35. Have patience with older people – you will hopefully be one someday. They are our foundation.

36. Have patience with young people – you were once that age. They are our future.

37. Sit outside and feel the gentle breeze and appreciate nature.

38. Wear sunscreen. Seriously, don’t be an idiot. Skin cancer kills. Being alive is better than being tan.

39. Read. Fiction, nonfiction, national news, whatever.

40. Learn to love and accept yourself. This is the most important relationship of your life. You need to be happy and accepting of yourself before you can be of others.

 

 
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