Heather's Hangout

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

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!

 

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

 

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!

 

5 lessons to my 21-year-old self February 3, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 9:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,
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Enjoy every day!

I went to see my oncology surgeon the other day for a check-up. For those of you who haven’t read my history, I am a bone cancer survivor. Diagnosed at 21, I was fortunate to have my left leg saved, undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatment and a major surgery to replace the lower part of my femur, knee and top part of my tibia with titanium.

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My leg has recently been achy in unusual areas of the titanium rod. I kicked off a busy fitness routine at the beginning of the year, including Zumba, strength training, cycling and whatever else I feel like doing. I decided better safe than sorry by visiting my surgeon. Thankfully, there doesn’t appear to be anything distinctly wrong with my leg. The tenderness is probably due to the return of cold, winter weather in Michigan and, more likely, that I do not like to sit still. I push my leg regularly with all the physical activities on my schedule, which my surgeon forewarned wears out my hardware (medical terms). I know this and know I most likely will have the hardware replaced in time. But thankfully not yet. While there is nothing wrong with my leg, I still received some suggested restrictions that kind of bummed me out. Because I don’t like to be restricted from what I want/like to do (who does, right??). It makes me feel like cancer is winning a bit, weird as that may sound as I write this with a clean bill of health (thank heavens).

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I admit when I left my surgeon’s office, I felt a bit…well, pouty, a tad frustrated and maybe even a bit sorry for myself. So when I stopped in the waiting area to put my coat and gloves on and looked around at the other patients waiting for appointments with various oncology doctors, I was quickly reminded to count my blessings. Especially when I noticed a young woman sitting near me flipping through a magazine. I saw her bald head peeking out of the colorful hat she wore. We smiled at each other and I swear I saw a glimpse of myself at 21 years old, feeling hopeful, nervous, anxious, tired, determined.

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Trust yourself, even if some part is titanium!

When the woman was called back to the exam room, I found myself staring at that closed door. I vividly remembered being at that stage of treatment, mustering up positive energy and smiles because I really believed a good attitude would help my fight against this disease. But deep down I was also terrified, confused (why this was happening to me), and uncertain. Yet, I kept the positive attitude through treatment and beyond (it thankfully is my preferred state of mind). I gave thanks daily at being alive. I felt blessed at the people who made incredibly positive impacts as they entered my life, sometimes to simply pass through. I counted blessings even when the hits came. And I continue to do all that. Every day.

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As I later sat in my car waiting for it to warm up (come on, spring!), I still thought of the young woman. And of myself, who at 21 had so many ‘big plans’ for the future. I don’t know that I would tell my younger self to not do or try something because, as difficult as some of those situations (and people) turned out to be, each one brought me to this point in my life and helped add to the woman I am today. I needed those learning experiences (okay, maybe I could have skipped some of the tears and bad dates). But there are still some lessons I would share with my younger self:

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Have faith in yourself. There will be moments when a situation or person makes you doubt yourself, your talents, emotions, and, possibly, even your thoughts. Stay true to yourself. No one can tell you how you think or feel. YOU will make the best decisions for you. There will be challenges to overcome throughout your lifetime – some you may see coming, many you will not. As odd as it sounds, try to embrace these. The disappointment, tears, heartaches, frustrations, uncertainty. These will make you stronger, wiser, fiercer in determination and courage, more compassionate, and prepare you for the next challenge. Never lose faith or trust in yourself.

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Trust your gut instincts. These red flags wave for a reason. Sometimes these gut instincts will mean you need to do something unpopular or may make others unhappy with you. Sometimes these gut instincts will protect you from potentially difficult situations. If you know something isn’t right, pay attention and react. But know that you will also at times ignore your instincts. Learn from the moments that will inevitably follow.

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Take nothing or no one for granted. I heard many times growing up that “life is never guaranteed so appreciate it.” I didn’t really understand what that meant until my cancer diagnosis. Before cancer, I thought I would always be able to run on two legs and be adventurous in my choices of physical activities. I trusted that my dad would be beside my mom, sisters and me for decades to come. Life changes, sometimes very unexpectedly. I learned to fully embrace happiness, family, friends, adventures, accomplishments and so much more. Take time to step back to soak in special moments.

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Don’t hesitate to share your emotions with someone special. Whether your parents, siblings, friends, crush or someone passing through who made a positive impact on you, share your thanks, thoughts and feelings. You really don’t know that there will be another chance or another day to share. Within two years after treatment, I lost four friends to cancer and there is so much I wish I would have shared with them. I know in the past I missed opportunities to share my feelings with romantic partners, friends and others because I was either too shy, nervous of their reaction, figured I had time or some other silly reason. I rarely let those moments slip by me now. On the flip side, when someone hurts or upsets me, I voice those feelings too. It took a long time to find that voice because I tend to be nice and worry about others’ feelings, but I’ve learned there are ways to have difficult conversations in a kind, respectful way (even when the other person may not be).

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Enjoy every day. Even on seemingly bad days, don’t go to bed without picking one positive moment in the day. Because I promise there will always be one moment that makes you smile, brings you comfort or at the very least reminds you that there will be sunshine tomorrow. And don’t forget to laugh. Often. Nothing makes me feel better and more optimistic than laughing. Surround yourself with people who share your zest for life. Find a job you enjoy, explore the world outside of your local community, try new activities. Live.

 

Back to basics in the new year (5 goals for 2017) December 30, 2016

A few months back a friend talked me into going to see a tarot card reader to find out what’s in store for my future. I had never been to one and admit I had bit of trepidation. What might she tell me?

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Cheers to a new year!

The woman was very welcoming and sweet. She asked what I might want to focus on learning. I really didn’t have a specific focus; mostly wondering if, after making some major life changes in the early year, I was on the right path and what might come in the future, if she could tell. I didn’t admit that I wasn’t sure I really believed these cards could tell about my life…but I was willing to give it a try. At this point in my life, I feel so open to new experiences (one of my new mottos is “bring it on, life.”)! I shuffled the deck and then she started laying out cards on the table. I waited with bated breath while she studied the cards. Then she smiled and said, “Wow you’ve been through a lot, but there so much positive energy and love in your future.” Well how about that? I could have walked out with that bit of refreshing news, but she had more to share. As we talked about the cards’ various meanings, it admittedly was a bit eerie when she commented on things that had happened in my life (health challenges, relationship ending, etc.) that I didn’t tell her (and she had no way of knowing). Then she mentioned things that I’ve been pondering professionally (according to her will be successful!) and house hunting struggles (soon to end!). And the cards indicate my love life will be very full of love, happiness and…… well I’ll keep some of that to myself so I can see how it plays out.

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I know that I am still the person in charge of my present and future, however, it’s nice to have someone say that I’m on the right path. The overall message was to be open and ready for the many positive things that will happen in the new year. I walked out feeling hopeful and excited about my future.

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Whether or not you ‘believe’ in tarot cards and all that, the point is that I liked the message of being open and ready. I am an admitted planner, so often like to plan things. I make lists, schedule things in advance and probably overthink too much. I worry about other people’s feelings, which often time slips into my plans and sometimes even alters what I do in my life (I’ve realized there is a threshold of being too nice). I’ve been learning that I can still focus on my life while being kind, helpful and supportive to others.

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What I’ve really learned in my 40+ years on earth is that not every year, not every moment, will be perfect joy. Not every situation ends in joy. And that’s okay (although it doesn’t always feel okay). We sometimes need those less than stellar moments to guide us into a new version of life and our self. Remember that you’ll make it. Despite sadness, confusion and frustration, there is always hope. That’s at least what I hold onto. There are new chapters to write, new adventures to experience, new people to meet and new moments to heal and fill the heart.

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So that’s what I am bringing into the new year. I’m walking into it with my arms open, ready to live life with laughter, smiles, an open heart and…hope. Lots and lots of hope.

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I usually like to set specific goals for myself each year (shocking from the planner!). This year I want to focus on more simple, yet motivating goals for myself.

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Find what fills your heart with happiness.

Happiness. The quote below from the Dalai Lama is so true. You can’t rely on others to create happiness for you. I believe that life is what you make of it. I don’t always like what happens in life – I didn’t like getting cancer, didn’t like my dad being diagnosed and dying from cancer, didn’t like having a failed marriage, didn’t like the sadness and challenges affecting my family and friends. But through each of these, we all had to pick ourselves up, dust off and move forward. Hopefully with support from others, yet mostly it’s your own decision on how you move forward. With your head high and hope in your heart? I admit that earlier in the year, I was ready to accept that this year would be blah and slow moving as I transitioned. But it really wasn’t. There have been so many times that my heart felt so full of love and happiness that I thought it might burst. Or I’d start crying tears of joy and relief (yes, that happened once or twice). When I recently commented to a friend that I’m touched at the love and joy in my life, she said she wouldn’t expect it any other way because I’m so open to being happy and sharing love that it’s natural those type of people would gravitate to me too. It’s an interesting thought and one I’ll accept because I love and appreciate all of you who bring your own sense of love and joy. Part of creating your own happiness is keeping the ‘right’ people in your life, the ones who reciprocate the time and energy needed to keep a relationship/friendship moving forward, the ones who bring their own joy and happiness so they don’t suck yours away. Simply put, I love being happy and am going to focus on bringing so much more of that to my life, and others, in the new year.

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” ~ Dalai Lama

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Love. I admit it, I’m a romantic. Not ‘I need a bunch of gifts’ romantic type, but ‘kindness, affection, sweet gestures, remembering things I shared, exploring and creating new memories together’ romantic. Real true love is unselfish, kind and joyous. It makes you feel vulnerable, yet won’t hurt you. It makes you smile at the simplest gestures and words because you know it’s genuine. It’s crazy fun, and simple, relaxing moments together. It’s long talks about life, and quiet compatibility. I have not given up on love. I’ve definitely learned some lessons and my mind is aware. Yet, my heart is open. And while I am opening my heart and arms to romantic love, I’m also wrapping my arms around love in general. Love of family and friends, love of simple things and actions, love of life. As my tarot cards suggested, I’m open and ready to accept love in all forms.

“Love is when he gives you a piece of your soul that you never knew was missing.” ~ Torquato Tasso

“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.” ~ Winnie the Pooh

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So many places to explore!

Adventures. I feel like 2017 is a new adventure waiting for me to explore. So I want to be more spontaneous and open to new opportunities. I love traveling. I love to not just travel but explore new places, meet local people and learn new things about locations, cultures and more. Having adventures isn’t just about traveling to new locales, it’s about being open to people, activities, foods, drinks, opportunities and more! But no worries if you haven’t been bitten by the travel bug, adventures are also about stepping out of your comfort zone. Join a social group (check out meetup.com for tons of options in your area), try an activity, learn a language. There’s so much to do and see in the world around us. I don’t plan to sit on my couch while time moves by me. Do you?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” ~ Helen Keller

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Health. I’m always slightly obsessed with my health. I guess cancer does that. This is different though. I want to be even healthier and more focused. I want to feel energized and simply feel good as many moments as I can. So what does that mean? I want my body to feel as strong and confident as it did before bone cancer. Okay, I realize that I was 21 when I was diagnosed so feeling 21 in my 40s is probably wishful thinking….my point is that I felt confident and completely sure of myself. I trusted my body. Cancer raised a distrust and then a dip in confidence from the titanium rod in my femur/tibia. I hesitate to try activities because I’m worried I might hurt myself. I don’t plan to throw all caution to the wind in the new year, because I sure as heck won’t jeopardize my leg, but I want to feel confidence when I try new activities or push myself in a current. For instance, I want to bike a few hundred miles on my new road bike and feel confident that I can do it. So I’ll be setting some goals to get healthier and stronger (and maybe reward myself with a cute new outfit).

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“If today were the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do today?” ~ Steve Jobs

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Hello, you!

Me. It’s always a little odd for me to say I’m going to focus on…me. It kind of feels a little self-centered or selfish, yet what I realized this year is that you sometimes need to be selfish in your ‘me’ time. And it’s not truly being selfish. If you’re not happy and well, then you can’t truly help others. This past year was the first in a long time that I truly stood up for myself, making difficult decisions, having honest conversations and focusing on what I needed. It was at times unnerving and challenging; it was also liberating and stress-relieving. In the end, these were actions that I needed to take so I can live the life that I want and should. I learned how to be an advocate for myself, recognizing that if I can’t stand up for myself, how can I truly help others? I had a very real moment this past spring when I was in my Washington, DC hotel room after cancer advocacy training, networking, and dinner and drinks with new friends – as I mentally reviewed the previous two days of fun, accomplishment and laughter, I suddenly fell back onto the bed, smiling ear to ear and thought, “welcome back, my friend.” Because in that moment, I realized my heart felt so very full and light, laughter bubbled out and I remembered what it felt like to be me. And I had missed just being me. So going forward I’m going to just be me. Because, honestly, who else should I be?

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“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” ~ Walt Disney

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A dear person in my life told me to make 2017 the best year ever. It is some solid advice that I can grab onto and run with. Ready to join me?

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“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

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May the sun set on this year and rise high in the new year!

 

Rockin’ my ride at Cyclebar December 26, 2016

hh_cyclebarI love physical activity. I love to push my body so it feels strong and healthy. As a bone cancer survivor, this has been an important lifestyle for me, but I was focused on healthy living long before cancer. I’m always open to trying new activities, especially ones that bring a varying routine to my exercise lineup. While I have to be careful with the rod in my leg, I still find ways to modify and have fun.

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My latest effort is a fun spin/cycling class at the newest Cyclebar location near me. I had never tried a spin class and since I love to bike, I thought this might be a good activity to do while Michigan’s winter is keeping me from biking outdoors. Cyclebar classes offer an energetic opportunity to ride a stationary bike in a cool studio, both cool temp (which soon doesn’t feel that cool once you start the workout!) and cool vibe with colored lights and great music. During one of the songs, you use a lightweight (4- or 6-pounds) bar for some upper body toning. Some locations have big screens to show individual stats or ‘compete’ as a team during a song or two.

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Classes are for any fitness level, and I’m not just saying that (because I know when people say that for some activities, then you try it and are like, “uh, no this is not for a beginner.”). If you can ride a bike, you can participate in the class. Sure, the music is high energy and you will sweat as your thighs burn (isn’t that the point of working out?!), but every instructor points out that you ride at your own pace. And you really should and can. Since I have a titanium rod in my femur and top of the tibia, I can’t power along the entire class as most people do. So I’ve learned to find my own output level that still pushes me but won’t cause stress or pain in my leg. For instance, if the instructor wants you to ride out of the seat (simulating a hill climb on the bike) for the duration of the song, I might do that for 30 seconds, sit on the seat for a few seconds, then back up, rest, etc. As long as I’m pedaling, I’m working out.

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I’ve only been to a few classes but enjoyed every one. I definitely leave feeling happily tired after a great workout. While Melissa or Shawn were my instructors, there are several other instructors who I’ve heard positive feedback. My instructors have been encouraging, funny, energetic and friendly. They provide good tips and suggestions, especially for new people (which end up being good reminders for regulars). As with any activity, you need to find the instructor who you click with and who can support you in giving your best effort (I, for instance, don’t do well with trainers who yell or get in my face. Jillian Michaels and I will never train well together. But everyone reacts differently to behavior and attitude).

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I don’t know that all Cyclebar locations offer these items, but the one that I attend classes at provides:

  • Cycling shoes to wear during class (or you can bring your own cycling shoes to clip in)
  • Water bottle (a red refillable bottle that you can take home!)
  • Towel to use in class
  • Apples and bananas for snacking after class (I love since I always seem to be hungry post-class!)
  • Lockers (with locks)
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Instructor’s bike is easy to see so you can follow along!

I also discovered they have a stash of extra hair ties if you forget yours. There’s also a locker room to change, plus some small toiletries and wet clothing bags.

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The staff is great….my first class was the free intro class so the staff helped us get familiar with the bike and computer (to track your RPM, power output, etc.), adjust seat and handlebars and answer any questions. I’ve since discovered that they’re always willing to help you get set up, chat, whatever you need.

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As with any workout for me, the music matters. I like the high energy, popular songs that I  can sing along to (I do this in Zumba too – great distraction from the achy muscles!). Melissa was helpful in pointing out the beat in many songs so as I pedaled to the beat, it didn’t seem so hard! The location near me offers fun themed classes, including special music (holiday songs, billboard hits, artist specific, etc.), brunch, happy hour and more. It makes for a new, motivating class.

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I find the classes to be a great workout. It’s a fun opportunity to build up your cardio level, burn calories, sweat out tension or any other negative emotion, listen to good music, and…did I mention have fun? Find a Cyclebar near you to get started with a great workout!

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Stay tuned….I’m partnering with Cyclebar in Troy, Mich. to host a fundraiser benefiting LIVESTRONG on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 11:45am. I’ll be posting more details soon but online registration is open if you want to reserve your spot now!

 

Lessons to help survive life December 5, 2016

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The road of life has taken me through many ups and downs, and even some potholes, in the past 20 years. From a cancer diagnosis and treatment to my dad’s treatment and death to my own side effects from cancer to losses of family members and friends to the end of my marriage, life has certainly presented some challenging ‘life events.’ (and yes, I am much older than 20, but the early years didn’t seem so challenging – no doubt owed to good health and awesome parents.)

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When you go through challenging and emotional situations, such as cancer, the loss of a parent or even the loss of a job, it’s easy to get bogged down with the negative or overwhelmed with the transitional phase. I’m a planner and caregiver, meaning I like to be organized and help others long before I focus on me. When a challenging life event happens to me, all of my plans change and I have to learn to care for myself. Whew. Weird. You think your life is moving in a forward motion, then it stops. Then a new chapter begins, which can be scary and uncertain….and exciting if you focus on the new opportunities, happiness, hope, love and simplicity that will greet you in this yet to be written chapter.

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This has been a transitional year for me. As emotionally and mentally draining as it’s been at times, it has surprisingly been filled with….lots and lots of hope, optimism, love, happiness and laughter. So much more than I expected. Opportunities have arisen that provided me with new adventures, unexpected happiness and so many amazing people to add to my life. I was anxious to start this new chapter, yet instead I now am so excited to add to the pages of my life.

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Here are some lessons that I’ve learned, not just from this new chapter, but every one that’s been written so far:

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Get some fresh air to clear the mind.

Take me time. News flash: Taking time for yourself is not selfish. So often we put others first and worry about how others are faring while we lose sight of our own happiness and well-being. As challenging as it is to focus on me, I’m making myself do just that. If something or someone makes me happy, I’m going to embrace those moments and people. I’m also finding comfort and relief at having some time to remember or figure out what makes me happy. I checked out several books from the library to escape into fictional stories. I hiked many miles on the nature trails alone to clear my brain and simply enjoy quiet. I bought a new road bike that gave me freedom to explore new areas and trails to feel the wind on my face and strength in my body. I spread a blanket at the park to listen to the birds. I turned the music loud and danced in my living room (I do this fairly often!). I sipped a glass of wine on the deck watching the sunset. These things bring me peace and joy.

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Spend time with people. For the first few weeks after I filed for divorce, I wanted little to do with people. I couldn’t figure out the myriad of emotions that swirled in me, let alone figure out how to be the supportive, kind, smiling friend I always try to be and still really wanted to be (it’s good that I have kind people in my life who regularly checked in). So I sort of hid out after work, taking a lot of me time to process. The me time wasn’t bad and I did work through many questions and emotions. But then I crawled out of my blah time to realize I missed people. I missed laughing and being silly as I am when hanging out with family and friends. I started accepting invitations for drinks and movies and games and more. I joined a new outdoor club, book club and social club. I enjoy spending time with people who share the same interests, kind hearts and zest for life.

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Embrace new opportunities. I’ve learned that when one event happens, it often sets in motion another series of opportunities. Sometimes we ignore these opportunities because they’re too different, new or unknown, and those things can be scary. Life is about taking chances, whether on situations, people and even ourselves. When you’re entering a new chapter of life, there can be a lot of newness around you. It can be overwhelming…..if you let it. Or it can be exciting and satisfying. I’ve always loved new adventures and meeting people so I’m trying to include these whenever the opportunity (or person) presents itself. What I discovered the past few months is that I am much more carefree and ‘go with the flow’ than I ever have been. I worry less. I laugh so much. I have conversations with random people all the time when I’m out. I admittedly am still a planner, yet lately I’m ready to follow fate. We only know where the road leads if we follow it. And who knows who we might meet along the way to enjoy the journey with us.

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Don’t lose faith or trust in yourself. We all have that voice inside that waves red flags or yells warnings, and we all at times have pretended we don’t see the flags and ignored the voice. Then we sometimes regret and lose trust in ourselves. I certainly have. I wonder if I’ll ignore the voice and red flags again, if I’ll make the right decisions, if I can trust my own opinion.  But the thing is, we all at times make mistakes. And maybe what we think is a mistake is really a step on the path that we’re supposed to be on. I have to believe that many things in life happen for a reason. I don’t always like it – for instance, I would prefer not to have had cancer, instead be a ‘normal’ physically able, healthy person. But I survived cancer when others have not so I believe I’m here to help others and make a difference. If I didn’t have my cancer experience, I wouldn’t be able to relate to and support cancer survivors, and people in general, as I can now. I wouldn’t have experienced the many positive opportunities and adventures that my cancer journey led me on. And I wouldn’t have met so many amazing people who have crossed my path.

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Ask for help. I’m probably the last person to be suggesting this because I have a hard time asking for help. I’m much more comfortable supporting others and offering hugs and kindness to strangers. Which makes me appreciate those people in my life who have offered help without me asking. Whether phone calls, texts, cards, getting drinks, road trips, bike rides, hikes, dinner invites, simply checking in, whatever. It means the world to know there are people supporting me. The times I have reached out to someone for support, I was not disappointed by the love provided to me.

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Learn to let go and relax.

Learn to let go and embrace your new opportunities and new chapters of life. Many times since my cancer diagnosis I have had to let go of the plans and ideas of what my life should be like. Whether it was from cancer, my dad’s death, relationships, jobs or seemingly simple decisions that I made on the fly, my life has curved a little unexpectedly. And that’s okay because I believe overall my life is great and I have learned some very valuable lessons about love, faith, determination and myself. I will share that every time I’ve started a new chapter, something good has come from it. Maybe I didn’t recognize it at first, but over time it has been blatantly obvious that I embraced what was in front of me, consciously or unconsciously, and ‘ran with it.’ I could say ‘what choice did I have?’ But we do have a choice in how we react to situations.

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People often say that God only gives you what you can handle and these things make you stronger. Some days I believe those statements. Other days I think He must have mistaken me for someone else because I’m tired and not sure how much else I can handle. But then I wake up, wiggle my toes, feel my own two legs, take a deep breath and count my blessings to be alive.

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My optimism and positive energy thankfully continue to poke through even the toughest situations that I have faced. I guess it’s just who I am (some days I have to dig a little deeper for the strength). I am so very optimistic about this next chapter. I’m ready for to go on new adventures, meet new friends, embrace new opportunities, fall head over heels into new love and feel new happiness. I’m ready to be the author of my own life’s book.

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Thank you for being a part of this new chapter.

 

 
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