Heather's Hangout

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

5 tips for sun protection July 18, 2017

Filed under: Cancer Tips — Heather @ 8:45 am
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HH_hike

Wear a hat to protect your face!

We’re in the midst of summer when most of us are outdoors a lot more often. Enjoying beaches, biking, hiking, pool time, baseball, golf, picnics and many other outdoor activities. Exposing us to the sun’s rays.

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As much as we should enjoy the outdoors and sunshine, the scary reality is that skin cancer rates have been increasing for the past 30 years. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 87,000 new melanoma cases will be diagnosed in 2017 and about 9,730 people are expected to die from this cancer. Any change in color to your skin is damage to the skin. So a base tan or light tan or whatever you call it really isn’t a ‘good tan.’ There is no such thing as a good tan.

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I head to the dermatologist today for my 3-month melanoma check. My melanoma was discovered more than 10 years ago so I had graduated to 6-month checks. Until my body tried to misbehave and a recent biopsy came back borderline bad. So I’m back to seeing my doctor every three months for a bit. That’s okay. I like my doctor, and I figure there’s nothing wrong with being careful and catching any potential problems early.

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I am surprised by the number of people who still don’t wear sunscreen, and lay out in the sun to tan (I am that person who freaks when I see a change in my pale white skin!). Or the parents who are great about slathering sunscreen on their children but not themselves.

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Here are some easy ways that I protect myself from the sun (and still enjoy being outdoors in the sun!):

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Hat: I admit I used to be kind of bad about wearing a hat, even though it’s the perfect way to protect your face and scalp. People may think I don’t want to ruin my hair (ha) but I admit that ever since chemo, when I wore a hat often to protect my bald head, I don’t love wearing one. However, I purchased a few baseball and cute straw hats that I’ve been wearing more often. Like I said, it’s such an easy way to protect your face’s skin and your scalp, especially if you’re outside for long periods of time.

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sunscreen

There’s a sunscreen for everyone!

Sunscreen: There are SO many varieties of sunscreen on the market. The most important aspect is ensuring the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB. Most of the sunscreen is available in dry touch so no excuses that sunscreen makes you feel greasy. I know a lot of people like the spray bottles so you don’t have to get your hands ‘dirty’ but keep in mind that the spray might distribute unevenly so I recommend either spraying a lot or still rubbing in to ensure full coverage. Use a minimum of SPF 30 and don’t forget to reapply! My doctor provided some good recommendations for my sensitive skin a few years ago and she’s still my go to for answers and references (and sometimes samples!). I’ve already used two bottles of sunscreen this season! I wear a minimum of SPF 55 and own a variety of bottles sizes so I can carry in a bag, purse, cycling jersey, backpack, wherever.

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Sun sleeves/shirts/clothing: Great clothing options are now available with SPF and UV protection, and lightweight enough to wear during warm weather. I have a few long sleeve shirts I wear while hiking that blocks the sun, yet is cool enough during activities. I also purchased sun sleeves to wear cycling. These white sleeves slide up my arm to cover me from shoulder to wrist. And don’t forget sunglasses to protect your eyes.

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Supplements/skin care: My doctor recommended I take a supplement that helps repair and protect skin (talk to your doctor before taking any supplements). I also use a night cream to repair any damaged skin (and helps with anti-aging! Yep, you’re learning my secrets). My morning moisturizer has sunscreen in it so I’m protected when I walk out the door.

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Skin checks: I mentioned that I see my dermatologist every three months for a skin check. This is due to my health history so probably not necessary for most people. However, everyone should have a skin check at least annually. Your primary care doctor can do this, or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. If you have a family history of melanoma, I definitely recommend annual checks (talk to your doctor if you need something different/more often). Of course, if you see anything suspicious looking (changes to moles or skin), call immediately.

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These are tips that work for me to protect my skin while I’m staying busy outdoors. Talk to your doctor about what works for you and other options to safely enjoy the sun and outdoors. As with anything, remember you are your own advocate. I pointed out a mole that looked like it was changing shape and color to my dermatologist years ago. He didn’t agree but a month later, I returned with the same concern so he removed the mole. Turned out to be early stage melanoma, which was treated with additional surgery. I admit I switched doctors at that point, to someone who had more time and a better strategy to follow my health. But I’m thankful I listened to my instinct to pursue my concern. So pay attention to your body, protect yourself from the sun while enjoying life, and be safe!

 

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

HH_LIVESTRONG

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

HH_Dad_1999

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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HH_bikeLS52017

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!

 

Celebrating 20 years of life after cancer March 30, 2017

Filed under: Cancer Tips,Life Lessons — Heather @ 8:05 am
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HH_GaylordDock

Find joy and peace in life.

A few weeks ago it dawned on me that my 20-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis occurs in May. I usually celebrate my cancer anniversary as the day I finished treatment, free from hospitals, chemo and the terrifying weight of that disease (there’s still a weight but different than going through treatment). Recognizing my diagnosis is important to me too. Cancer changed my life. For better and worse. I was diagnosed at 21, on the cusp of becoming an independent adult, with all the excitement and hope for life that only a young adult can truly muster. Facing a disease will change anyone’s outlook on life but when you’re a young adult who doesn’t really know anything about the real world, it sets your life on a completely new path. For better and worse.

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Since it struck me that it’s been 20 years, vivid memories have come rushing back (of course). I recall the ache in my knee that taunted me sporadically for more than a year, yet I kept canceling doctor appointments because college fun (um, and studies) kept me busy. I hear the quiet warning in my head wondering why my knee was hurting more consistently. I can feel the stunned anxiety and stir of fear when the doctor at the urgent care center explained my knee x-ray showed a possible tumor. I remember the guilt of making my parents and sisters worry so much and assuring them that I would be okay, then sobbing in fear in the privacy of my bedroom. I see myself holding a basin as my nurse started my first chemo drip (it took a few more days to begin puking my guts out from the poison). I feel my hair falling out in clumps. I know the determination of making my leg muscles work again so I could walk after surgery replaced my femur with titanium.

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Through these memories, many others also surface. The kindness and determination of my surgeon, oncologists, nurses and medical team. The outpouring of support and love from family, friends and even strangers who saw a bald young woman on crutches for so many months. The bonding with other cancer survivors. The deepening of an appreciation for the simple things in life (fresh air, blue skies, flowers, hugs, pressing my face into a horse’s mane, the kiss of my little niece, eating without throwing up). The strength and courage that grew in my heart. The new love of life that blossomed in my soul. The friends who came into my life, thanks to cancer, and who touched my heart in ways I will never forget. The adventures and opportunities that have arisen from being called a cancer survivor.

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Ireland_HHkerry

Travel to fun places, like Ireland!

I recently wrote of advice that I would share with my 21-year old self as she underwent chemo and surgery. Someone once told me that I should ‘move on’ from cancer. That’s a tough thing to do since I AM a cancer survivor. I didn’t ask for the title but it’s part of who I am. And, frankly, I am so very thankful to call myself a survivor because the alternative sucks. Cancer impacted my life, for better and worse. There is no doubt.  My entire life path changed due to my cancer diagnosis at 21, then again when my dad died from the disease. But I can’t say that it’s been all bad. Maybe that’s because I won’t let it. My attitude, thoughts and actions have tried to be positive and purposeful. It’s the best I can do. Throughout the past 20 years, I have learned some positive lessons. I share some of these with you as we walk through life:

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  • Give thanks every morning you wake that you are alive to enjoy another day. Count at least three blessings before bed. There is always something to be grateful for in your life.
  • Laugh as much as possible. Laughter really is one of the best medicines.
  • Surround yourself with positive people (and yes, you can still be a realist and positive).
  • Smell the flowers. Even the stinky ones. Flowers are a beautiful symbol of new life.
  • Be active. Find an activity you enjoy and do it. Moving your body keeps you healthy, physically fit and helps you enjoy life.  I stay as active as my leg allows and have found many activities that I enjoy so don’t feel like I’m working out!
  • Don’t skip regular doctor appointments and preventive screenings, including skin, colorectal, cervical and breast cancer screenings.
  • Embrace love. Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Take a chance, knowing that love, even in fairy tales, isn’t always easy. But it will be worth it when you find the right person.
  • Travel outside of your hometown, current city and state. Learn about other cultures.
  • See a live play or musical at least once at a community theater, on Broadway, wherever. Appreciate the talent, story and magic behind these performances.
  • Have dance parties – with yourself, friends, kids, pets. I usually was the first one on the dance floor at clubs during college, which is surprising when I think back since I was incredibly shy any other time. Even now I catch myself dancing while cooking in the kitchen, at work when I need a break (behind my closed office door!), folding laundry, hanging with my nieces and nephew, or whenever the urge hits. Just get lost in the music and fun.
  • Know that it’s okay to fail sometimes. The greatest lesson is what you learn.
  • Take lots of pictures and be in lots of pictures. Capturing great memories, trips, people and moments in your life can bring joy in the future. While I have hundreds of pictures on my smartphone and digital camera, I also print and frame many of my favorite memories and people to see throughout my home. I love walking by those frames and smiling at the reminders of those moments.
  • Volunteer in your community. Helping others is, of course, the right thing to do in today’s society (at least in my humble opinion). We are all fortunate in our lives in one way or antother so I’m a believer that we ALL can give back in some way. People need to know there is kindness still in the world. Plus, helping others often helps yourself – it brings gratitude and joy. Trust me.
  • Pay attention to politics. Decisions are made by a small number of people that greatly affect, both positively and negatively, millions of people. Including you and me. Know what’s happening in your local community, in your state and at the federal level. Don’t be afraid to contact your elected officials. We still live in a democracy. They work for us.
  • Make peace with the people who hurt you. You don’t necessarily have to verbally say it, but at least learn to let go of anger and hurt. Forgiving someone ultimately heals you and allows you to move on with freedom and an open heart.
  • Face your fears. We often learn great lessons by recognizing why something or someone stirs fear and uncertainty. Fear sometimes is the red flag that we need to pay attention, and other times, it’s a hindrance to great success, happiness and love. Listen to your emotions to determine why you feel the fear and then face it.
  • Be okay with alone time. In a society that makes it easy to be connected ALL THE TIME, it sometimes feels like my brain is always connected and overloaded. I need quiet time to regroup and refresh my brain and emotions. I love nothing more than having ‘me’ time to read, hike, bike, write, garden or even simply sit on the deck feeling the warmth of the sun and soft breeze. Whether I’m single or in a relationship, I need that ‘me’ time every so often. I think it’s important for everyone to appreciate alone time.
  • Learn something new every month. Try a new recipe, practice some words in a foreign language, read a book, play the guitar or piano, visit an art museum, listen to a new band. Whatever your interests, expand your knowledge and you’ll expand your fun and enjoyment of life.
  • Make friends of all ages and backgrounds. When I make a mental list of my friends, it pleases me to know they fit into an incredibly wide age bracket, have varying education and professional occupations, are talented in a variety of activities, are both genders, married and single, children and childless, and have experienced a myriad of life circumstances that make each person unique and special. They all bring such different perspectives of life and fill my heart with different appreciation.
  • Appreciate your life. We only get one body and one life. Make the most of it. Enjoy every day. Choose joy, love, kindness, happiness and hope.
 

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!

 

Honored to be a LIVESTRONG Leader January 6, 2017

hh_livestronghqThe best year ever is kicking off on a good note! I am honored, excited and proud to share that I was chosen to serve as a LIVESTRONG Leader in the new year. Leaders are volunteers from around the world who help strengthen LIVESTRONG’s mission, messages, and programs and services in local communities (and online).

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I’m excited to focus on some grassroots efforts to raise awareness of the great programs and services that LIVESTRONG offers to people touched by cancer. You might ask why LIVESTRONG? There are thousands of nonprofits dedicated to some sort of cancer cause, and I’ve been involved with many over the years. LIVESTRONG is an organization that I’ve been involved with on some level for many years because I truly believe in what they do for people affected by cancer. I think one of their greatest strengths is the ability to make a difference on the grassroots, local level. LIVESTRONG helps build a community by getting the people directly affected by cancer involved in the programs and services, through sharing program information and their own stories, raising funds to support these programs, meeting with elected officials to advance patient care, and so much more. Not just cancer survivors – caregivers, health professionals, family, friends, community professionals and more. People passionate about fighting cancer, interested in helping others and making a difference, talented, kind and compassionate. These qualities and so many more are what make up the people involved with LIVESTRONG. I love being in the presence of these people. A major reason I’m honored to be a volunteer for this organization.

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A few of my favorite LIVESTRONG programs include:

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LIVESTRONG at School: This program, designed for grades K-12, provides educators the tools and resources needed to have conversations about cancer in an age-appropriate manner. According to the National Cancer Institute, 25 percent of cancer survivors in the United States have at least one school-aged child at home.I also love that my younger sister jumped on this program idea when I shared it with her (she’s a former high school teacher and mom of three young children) so we’re already developing plans to pitch to our local schools!

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Advocacy/public policy work: LIVESTRONG works hard to ensure that cancer care remains at the forefront of the legislative agendas and is a national priority. I love working in this area of cancer advocacy, not just with my fellow cancer survivors and supporters, but also our elected officials and their staffs. I had the honor of being a LIVESTRONG advocate at last year’s One Voice Against Cancer lobby day in Washington, DC.This type of volunteer work is admittedly a bit of a rush and excitement for me. I just love it, especially the highs, and even the lows.

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Guidebook and journal: When I was asked to help edit the first edition of these books, I happily put my professional (and cancer perspective) skills to work. I then cried when I finished….because I was so happy these resources, packed full of valuable information, were available to people with cancer (these weren’t completed until after I finished cancer treatment). It’s a great way to navigate and organize your cancer journey. I always direct newly diagnosed cancer patients to these books.

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LIVESTRONG Fertility: Thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer during their reproductive years. Facing the possibility that cancer can take away your ability to have children adds stress to an already stressful time (facing it years post-treatment is equally stressful). This program provides reproductive information, access to discounted fertility preservation services and free medications, and more.

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Navigation services: These services provide free, personalized support and information for people affected by cancer, at any stage of the cancer journey. There is wealth of knowledge and support offered through these services.

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“Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything. This is LIVESTRONG.”

People sometimes ask me why I devote so much time and energy to volunteering for cancer-related organizations, wondering if it doesn’t get to be too much since I’m a survivor and lost my dad to cancer. My response is always why not? I’m alive, blessed to be healthy, and able to give back. But I honestly don’t feel it as an obligation because I survived cancer (although I do feel that ALL people have some obligation to help others when you can; simple kindness goes so far.). I feel it’s simply part of who I am – I enjoy helping others.

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If you or someone you know is going through cancer or a caregiver, supporter or health professional, visit www.livestrong.org for information and assistance.

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***GREAT NEWS! If you’re in the metro Detroit area and interested in supporting LIVESTRONG, join me on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 11:45am for a “Rock Your Ride” event at Cyclebar Troy benefiting LIVESTRONG. It will be a fun cycling class with great music and giveaways – ride at your own pace and no experience necessary! 🙂 Click here to register.

 

 
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