Heather's Hangout

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

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!

 

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

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 9:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,
MtHood_hh92010

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

A few of my favorite charities (#GivingTuesday) November 28, 2016

We’re familiar with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, days that promote retailers and shopping. Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, a day to promote and support nonprofits that make a difference in your local communities and the world around us.

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Celebrated the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable giving season as many people make donations this time of year to charities. Giving Tuesday is a way to donate time, money, items and more to charities in your community and beyond. According to the #GivingTuesday website, last year more than 700,000 people raised $116,000,000 online in 70 countries for charities. That’s amazing! What a positive impact.

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hh_livestrongwalkI’m a firm believer that we can all give back in some way, whether donating a few hours of your time or giving money or sharing information with others or whatever else you decide. Charities provide a positive social impact on the lives of thousands of people and animals every year. So if you’re looking to support some great charities that make big positive impacts, here are some of my favorites:

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LIVESTRONG: The free navigation services offered to people with cancer and caregivers are so very helpful and informative. Whether you have questions relating to fertility, survivorship, insurance, life during treatment and so much else, LIVESTRONG can help. Other programs include LIVESTRONG at the YMCA (helping people stay active during and after treatment) and LIVESTRONG at School (helping schools provide information about cancer to students). I’ve shared my support for this organization in the past and it remains strong (check out my blog about the LIVESTRONG Challenge in October).

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Imerman Angels: This organization provides one-on-one support to people with cancer and caregivers. Mentor Angels (cancer survivors and caregivers) are matched with individuals needing support who are experiencing similar cancers, treatment and more. In 2016, Imerman Angels celebrates 10 years of providing support, making more than 29,000 matches worldwide.

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Horses Haven: This all volunteer-run organization has helped hundreds of horses, ponies, HH_Sheckyheadshot 1009donkeys, goats and more over the years by providing a home (temporary or permanent) to these animals who need some love. The animals are owner surrendered, rescued, abandoned or in need of a safe place. I’m in awe of the hard work and dedication that goes into running this farm on a daily basis. I sponsored a gorgeous retired Thoroughbred for years before he passed on and have helped at several volunteer days on the farm. I love it there.

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Camp Casey: This organization brings two of my favorite things together – horses and supporting people touched by cancer. Camp Casey provides horseback riding experiences for children and teens with cancer. My favorite program offered by the organization, Horsey House Calls, brings a horse, pizza party and arts and crafts to the home of a child or teen going through cancer. Along with siblings and/or friends, the child gets to ride a horse in their neighborhood and have a great party experience. We’ve traveled throughout metro Detroit and now spread into west Michigan. Nothing makes my heart swell bigger than seeing the smiles that these horses bring to the kids’ faces.

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American Cancer Society: The ACS has been a leader in all things cancer for a long time. From getting information on specific cancers to learning about research to finding local support groups, the ACS offers all this and more. I volunteer for the ACS’ Cancer Action Network, which is the non-partisan advocacy affiliate of the ACS working to make certain that cancer issues are state and national priorities.

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Local libraries: As a self-declared book/reading addict, I spend a lot of time at my local library or using the library’s Kindle app to borrow books. I also love the quiet corners I can find for reading, writing, working and sometimes just escaping from the world. After so many city cuts, many libraries rely on private funding to help maintain hours, books, and more.

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Stage Nature Center: This nature center has become my favorite local spot to hike and escape into nature. The nature center isn’t large but it’s welcoming, educational and provides some perfect spots to sit and enjoy nature both indoors and out. The trails offer a quick opportunity to both get exercise and fresh air, while usually encountering wildlife (check out my blog on hiking these trails). Perhaps this isn’t your local nature center, but I’m sure your local outdoor center will greatly appreciate some support.

 

The freedom of my new bike November 11, 2016

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 8:56 am
Tags: , , , , ,

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I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to ride a bike. My sisters, friends and I rode bikes all the time during childhood. It was a wonderful way to have fun, get exercise, go somewhere without relying on our parents to drive us, and simply enjoy freedom around our town.

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My new bike provides lots of fun!

I owned a pretty red bike with a banana seat when I was younger. I called her “Rose” and pretended she was my horse (this was before I started riding real horses!). I eventually grew into a 10-speed bike which was a dream because it meant I was old enough to bike alone to my friends’ houses. I spent HOURS on that bike during high school, riding all over my small hometown with friends. We had so much simple fun. I bought a mountain bike in college and loved the freedom it provided to get away from stresses of college life.

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Then came cancer when I was 21 and a senior at college. In between chemo treatments, I graduated from college and had surgery to replace my femur and knee with a titanium rod. It took nine weeks of intense physical therapy to remind my leg muscles how to walk again. Then more chemo. When treatment finally ended, I was anxious to resume normal activities. But that wouldn’t happen exactly as I’d hoped because of the need to be careful with the rod. Plus, not even two years after treatment I fell on ice at work, popping the glue that kept my rod in the remaining part of my femur. Another surgery sidelined me for 15 weeks as my bone grew around a custom rod, and my muscles and leg learned to walk yet again. So for a few years, I cautiously participated in activities that I deemed safe – walking, canoeing, weight training. I was bored out of my mind. I finally vented to my surgeon that I wasn’t active enough and missed my former activities such as riding horses and biking. He asked why I didn’t bike. I just assumed it was a ‘please do not attempt’ activity. He didn’t see a reason why I couldn’t ride a bike as long as I was cautious and did my best not to fall (note that this is always a goal of mine, two good legs or not; I have never been a daredevil cyclist.). I left his office with a newfound feeling of giddy anticipation and excitement.

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Roads to explore while on a bike.

I soon found myself in a bike shop and promptly bought a hybrid mountain bike with all the shocks and comfort I could afford to provide added protection for my leg. And I rode my bike. It was thrilling! Nothing hurt from riding (uh, maybe my thighs that needed some serious exercise). So I rode miles and miles on my favorite trails. Over the years, I would see other cyclists fly by on road bikes that reminded me of my old high school bike. I have no idea why I thought those bikes wouldn’t work for me. I guess I wrongly listened to some people who assumed my leg couldn’t handle it or the clip pedals intimated me or some other reason I convinced myself of (the mental doubts are sometimes the hardest for me to overcome). Last year I stopped in a bike shop to inquire about a new road bike. I received helpful info but, alas, soon put the interest aside as other life stuff was happening.

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I can’t share my new bike story without telling about my summer trip to Iowa because it was the final push/inspiration. Earlier this year some friends talked about this bike event across Iowa that Team LIVESTRONG participates in. The Register’s Great Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) takes cyclists more than 400 miles across Iowa over seven days. Each day ends at a different town where huge campgrounds are erected, entertainment, food and drink are available, and you meet cool people. I was intrigued but that little voice in the back of my head said I probably couldn’t bike that many miles (such an annoying voice at times). So instead I made a plan to head to Iowa to meet up with my girlfriend to road trip with the team.

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It was one of the best decisions I’ve made this year. First, the girl time was amazing – we laughed, shared stories, found adventures only we could together, laughed more. And not only did I reinforce some amazing friendships and make many new, but I was inspired. As the days progressed across Iowa, I listened to the team members’ personal stories and stories of stops along the road. I began to ponder how I might participate with the team in the future and designed a possible pitch to my surgeon. It was the last day that really added to my interest….after the bikers left camp, a small group of us finished packing and hit the road to meet the team. When we stopped for breakfast, I sat with another young adult cancer survivor who shared his story. We talked about overcoming physical limitations from cancer and our mutual frustrations at having these physical side effects at times slow us down when we don’t want to be slowed down! We also talked about the things that motivate us to move and overcome our side effects any way that we can. There was something in this conversation that really touched and motivated me.

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Cancer never leaves any of us who have been affected by this disease. I was reminded on this trip that I will never be alone on this journey. With more than 16 million cancer survivors in the United States, there is always someone to say, “I get it. I understand.” And while I wish none of us had to go through cancer, I’m grateful to have so many beside me.

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So much fun!

When I returned home from Iowa, I made a decision to get that road bike and tell that doubting voice to take a nap. Helpful friends patiently answered a LOT of questions (and still do!). I received great customer service and information sharing at several local bike shops. I test rode numerous bikes to determine which provided the best comfort and reliability for my leg. And I finally opted for my Specialized Ruby Elite.

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Let me tell you what I like about Ruby (yes, I named her, although not very original). She’s light so I easily can carry her (which is awesome since I’m not supposed to carry heavy weight). She is fast and smooth. And she makes me feel alive. And proud of myself. It may sound silly but, if you haven’t faced a physical limitation (whether from cancer, another disease or injury), you may not understand the satisfied feeling of accomplishment when you overcome anxiety and push caution to the corner. I do that every time I hike a trail, climb a rock wall, attend a Zumba class, ride a bike.

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I’ve been trying to take advantage of every mild temperature day to bike. Last weekend, I set my alarm to make sure I was on the trail with the sun. It promised to be a beautiful Michigan fall morning – brisk yet sunny. I unloaded my bike from my car’s rack, slipped on my bike shoes, strapped on my helmet, looked at the empty trail in front of me (surrounded by pretty colored trees!) and pushed off. I smiled when I easily clipped my shoes into the pedal. And then everything else seemed to click. As the trail rolled in front of me, my bike felt smooth and…..like freedom. I felt free. Completely free. My head cleared, the endorphins kicked in, my heart strongly pumped. I couldn’t stop the smile spreading across my face. Slowly the anxiety slipped away as the miles increased. I practiced clipping in and out of the pedals. I caught up to and passed other bikers. I rode alongside another biker who gave some helpful tips. I biked my mileage goal, then added five more, then a few more…because I could. I didn’t want to stop. I eventually did of course. And I tucked this feeling of accomplishment and freedom into my heart and mind, to recall when I need a confidence boost in the future.

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Lots of people ride bikes, including lots of bone cancer survivors. So while I don’t consider myself any more special than any of those people, I count these small victories. Because they are victories for me. My biggest struggle with being a cancer survivor is the physical restrictions from the titanium rod in my femur, which in turn sometimes causes mental frustration and anxiety. Yes, I am incredibly grateful to have both of my own legs. I know the alternative so I appreciate that I had this option. I also know that I do more physically than some people who never had my surgery. But I’m human and can admit I sometimes get frustrated. Because I know before cancer I was able to do so much more. So biking 10, 20, 30+ miles on my new bike is a victory for me. Heck, getting up on a bike and pedaling a few feet is sometimes the best accomplishment of the day. I plan to enjoy every minute that I’m able to be ride my bike, hike in the woods, whatever I choose to do. I will enjoy every minute that I walk on my own two legs. For these are victories for me. And I choose to celebrate every little victory.

 

 
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