Heather's Hangout

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

I know Jack, you should too November 14, 2017

IKJfoundationlogoAs we enter the end of the year giving season for charities, I’m focusing on some of my favorite nonprofits. I recently wrote about two that help animals and cancer survivors.

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This charity feature is the I Know Jack Foundation. This foundation was started by a family in Iowa, people I’m honored to call friends, to support those touched by cancer. The foundation raises money to support cancer organizations, including LIVESTRONG, and provide Jack Packs to those affected by cancer.

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The Jack Pack is full of helpful, motivating items to support someone going through cancer. It includes a backpack, water bottle, inspiring book, meditation stone, journal, LIVESTRONG planner, comfort items, knit cap and more. All items meant to bring comfort to someone in need. This year I sponsored a Jack Pack in gratitude of being alive 20 years past diagnosis and in memory of my sweet dad who died from cancer. I remember the grateful emotions I felt from people bringing or sending me small items to help comfort and support me during my own cancer treatment so I love the thought of helping others.

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To understand the core of the foundation, you have to know Jack. I am blessed to say that I know Jack, and his awesome siblings and parents. Jack was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer at 5. There was no protocol to treat his cancer and no survivors of his cancer at the time. Through a long, tough fight, Jack turned 18 this year. He still faces challenges related to treatment and diagnosis side effects, but he is an amazing example of resilience, strong attitude and miracles. His family is an example of love, courage and kindness. Because they were so grateful for the support and kindness they received during Jack’s journey, they began the I know Jack Foundation to help others. And it does.

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Many of you followed my stories of committing to ride my road bike across Iowa with Team LIVESTRONG during RAGBRAI in July. You read of the miles of training, some of my reasons for making the commitment, the great fun I had during the week-long event, and the amazing memories and lessons learned about myself and my journey.

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This jersey always motivates me to bike!

Jack is also part of that story. I met Jack and his family during last year’s RAGBRAI when I joined the team for a few days. Jack is pretty straightforward with his thoughts and comments. On the day he was riding out with the team on a bike built for him, I stood beside the bike chatting with Jack while his parents prepared for the outing. When I wished him luck and said I’d see him at the next camp, he gave me a very puzzled look and asked why I wasn’t riding a bike. I briefly explained I had a rod in my leg and wasn’t sure yet how far it could handle. He was puzzled with my answer, shrugged and replied, “So what? Why are you not riding?”

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Taking a deep breath, I thought, “I don’t have a good answer for this guy, except I’m nervous to get hurt.” In that moment I looked at this young man and thought of his struggles, looked around the camp at the team members, many survivors and others who overcame physical, mental and emotional struggles, yet were strapping on helmets and preparing to ride miles. I too had overcome many physical, mental and emotional struggles from cancer and other. And I would continue to. Isn’t that life? I learned long ago, as did Jack, his family and all these other people, that it’s how you overcome these struggles that matter. When I saw Jack at the next camp, congratulating him on the ride, he again wondered why I didn’t ride with him. Persistent that he is, I honestly answered, “I don’t know anymore.” Then I laughed as yet another hook locked readying me to commit to the team the following year. I gave Jack a big hug, promising to do my best to ride with the team next time.

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As you know, I did ride with LIVESTRONG at RAGBRAI this year. Jack was away at camp that week so we didn’t see each other but I often thought of him as I pedaled against the wind and wondered when the next rest stop would appear. He became one of my many motivators that week, and always.

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I’m so very lucky to know Jack. I hope you know him a little now too. Please consider helping Jack and his family help others – donate today.

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Imerman Angels offers cancer support November 5, 2017

Filed under: Cancer Tips — Heather @ 3:08 pm
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Supporting cancer survivors is important.

Between the turn of a calendar month and Michigan’s recent weather, there’s no denying the end of the year is coming. Besides the holidays, this time of year also means many people might be thinking of giving to charities. There’s still plenty of time to support great charities and get a tax deduction. It’s a win-win!

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In my series featuring some of my favorite nonprofits, I’m next focusing on Imerman Angels. This nonprofit provides one on one support to cancer survivors with any type of cancer, at any stage, any gender, age, living anywhere in the world. Imerman Angels pairs up a cancer survivor who has completed treatment (Mentor Angel) with someone seeking support. This free mentor service offers “the chance to ask personal questions and receive support from someone who is uniquely familiar with the experience.” Support is also offered to cancer caregivers and those who have lost someone to cancer. With a database of thousands of cancer survivors and caregiver from around the world, the Chicago-based organization strives to match people with as similar cancer types, stages, treatment and situations as possible. With technology, no need to be local to each other.

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The founder, Jonny Imerman, is originally from Michigan and it’s an honor to call him a friend. Jonny is a young adult cancer survivor who is one of the nicest people I know. Seriously, his heart is huge and full of kindness. And the cool thing is that everyone I’ve met associated with Imerman Angels has the same qualities.

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I learned about Imerman Angels several years after I finished my own treatment for bone cancer. Jonny and I crossed paths when I was involved with another nonprofit (the cancer world can be small and well-connected so it wasn’t a surprise we eventually met). I loved learning about the organization’s purpose, and was impressed that Imerman Angels has fine-tuned its mission and values to become one of the leading one on one cancer support nonprofits in the world. I registered to become a Mentor Angel within hours of talking to Jonny. These connections inspire, motivate and touch my heart more than they could know. I remember all too well the emotions and day by day journey that cancer takes you through. The journey doesn’t stop when you finish treatment.

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The organization’s core values provide a glimpse into the heart of the people involved. My favorite is: “Be humble. Cancer is an equalizer. There’s no room for ego in the cancer fight.” These words are SO very true. Cancer has no mercy on who is touched. I am certain every one of you personally knows that.

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I’m committed to this organization and their services because I know firsthand how valuable and comforting it is to know others have not only been through similar circumstances, but also survived. Cancer is terrifying. It’s uncertain, emotionally challenging, mentally draining and physically commanding, no matter your cancer type or treatment protocol. Even if you’re fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends to support your journey, as I was, it’s still a little isolating and lonely.

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Those I’ve met through Imerman Angels don’t of course have exactly the same cancer stories as me, because no two stories are the same. No two treatment options work the exact same or affect each person the same. A drug that made me puke for days may not make another nauseous at all, or vice versa. But it’s still comforting to be able to connect with others who faced the same treatment protocol, and most importantly, understand the whirlwind of emotions constantly circulating through your head. As I’ve mentioned before, cancer is the one thing I think of daily for the past 20 years. It shaped who I am, often affects my physical decisions, and drives me to help others.

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If you are a cancer survivor and/or caregiver to someone facing cancer, consider becoming a Mentor Angel. Your experiences can truly make a difference to someone needing support. If you have been touched by cancer, as a survivor or caregiver, and need support, I encourage you to reach out to this organization. And if you are feeling generous, please donate.

 

Working together to fight cancer September 25, 2017

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Ready to make a difference!

As you know from my previous blog, my birthday was spent in Washington, D.C. meeting with members of Congress to discuss cancer-related bills and issues. I meant to write a follow up immediately after my return……but, well, personal and work ‘stuff’ has provided very little free time (I won’t share how little time has been spent on my bike seat. Insert sad face).

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Quite frankly, some of my time has been spent fighting back against the latest proposed disaster of a healthcare bill. This newly proposed bill would have detrimental effects on millions of people, including those with pre-existing conditions. In fact, I encourage you to call your Senator now to ask them to vote NO on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. You can click here for a list of Senate phone numbers.

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Thankfully, my time spent in D.C. was successful, fun and motivating. I joined 400+ volunteer leaders and staff of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network at a leadership summit and lobby day, where we talked to our legislators about important cancer-related issues. Our requests included:

  • Increase funding for research at the National Institutes of Health to $36 billion;
  • Support the Palliative Care and Hospice Education Training Act (H.R.1676/S.693)
  • Support the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act (H.R.1017/S.479)
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Grateful for the past 20 years.

There is something about being in a room with 400+ cancer advocates….empowering and motivating. There is something about standing with dozens of other cancer survivors…hopeful and grateful. There is something about meeting with elected representatives to work toward a common cause…..exciting and satisfying.

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Our first two meetings were with our Michigan senators. Both are supporters of our many cancer-related priorities, which I’m grateful. I always enjoy meeting with my senators and their staffs, who are friendly and welcoming. After those meetings, our group split into smaller groups for meeting with our representatives from our home districts. I attended several of these House meetings, all productive. I particularly enjoyed meeting with Rep. Sander Levin. We had an energizing conversation about health care. All in all our meetings were productive and promising in the fight against cancer.

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The evening brought the Lights of Hope ceremony. This touching event included more than 25,000 tribute luminaries lining the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. Each bag represented a cancer survivor or someone who died from the disease. It was an emotional journey as I walked among the bags, many decorated with pictures, messages and items of memories. Somehow, both my honor bag and my dad’s memory bag ended up beside each other. I admit as I stared at those two bags, for a moment I felt alone. I missed him deeply in that moment, overwhelmed with the ongoing question of how I survived and he did not. Yet, as I looked around the reflecting pool, at the thousands of bags lit to reflect unity against a disease, knowing I am one of millions who fight daily to make a difference against cancer, I felt comfort too.

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Beautiful Lights of Hope!

I’ve been asked many times over the past 20 years why I put so much energy into this fight. People wonder if I feel obligated. There is some truth to that. Even though I know my dad would say don’t feel obligated, live your life for you. Yet this is my life, and I like it, I appreciate it. I thrive in the environment of helping others, standing together to fight back against a disease that knows no boundaries in who it touches. Or takes from us. I am alive, with a voice that can share my story, and his story. A voice to talk to members of Congress, doctors, health care executives, fellow cancer survivors, caregivers and advocates. I am alive with a voice so that even those who can’t speak, those in a hospital getting treatment, those too sick or tired or scared, still have a voice.

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While I may feel a little obligated to speak out as I breathe, I mostly feel great passion and motivation to work for a positive change that can help others affected by cancer. There is a deep genuine belief in me that if we wrap our arms around the good, the strong, the dedicated, if we all as individuals stand together, this disease will not win.

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This disease has changed my life in many ways. It has broken me, motivated me, led me down many new paths, taken people, and brought people to my life. It is the one thing I think of every day for the past 20 years. It has taught me to stand up to fear and anger, embrace love, hope and kindness, grow courage and strength and motivation, seek love and laughter, enjoy the simple things. It has shown me that one person can make a difference to someone, and many people can impact millions.

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I invite you to be the one person to join the many. Get involved. Make a difference. You can get started by checking out the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network wherever you live.

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Celebrating 20 years of life after cancer March 30, 2017

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

 

Honored to be a LIVESTRONG Leader January 6, 2017

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

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

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A few of my favorite LIVESTRONG programs include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
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