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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7 reasons to take a hike in the woods May 21, 2016

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Mother Nature is finally starting to love us in southeast Michigan. The weather has been mild to warm temps, the sun shining and the breeze blowing just right. The birds are chirping, ducks and geese are having babies all around me, and even the deer are making appearances (considering I live in the suburbs, it’s so fun to see all these animals on an almost daily basis!).

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This time of year is one of my favorites because it means I can get outside to hike and bike. The titanium rod in my femur prevents me from having too much fun during the winter when we have snowy, slick conditions so I’m usually pacing the living room waiting for the weather to break (by January!). I love to be outside, whether hiking on the trails, biking, walking, relaxing in the backyard, hanging with friends and family on the deck, chilling at the local park, or wherever – I love the fresh air, gentle warm breezes and animals talking. I’ve always enjoyed nature, but it became a necessity after spending multiple stretches of 6-16 days in the hospital during 13 months of cancer treatment. Upon discharge, my parents would take me home and I’d sit outside with our Sheltie, letting the stress emotions seep out of me.

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Hiking has been my preferred form of outdoor exercise the past few weeks. I love walking into the woods, feeling like you can escape the world for even for a short bit. I enjoy the wonderful nature center and trails near my house – perfect distance to stop by after dinner or early on a weekend morning to wander in the woods when I don’t have a lot of time to go to the larger parks. An added bonus is I also feel safe hiking there alone. The trails aren’t super long but if you lap a few times, it’s a great workout for the body and mind.

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If you haven’t tried hiking or been on the trails for a while, here are some reasons to take a walk in the woods:

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Anyone can do it. The beauty of hiking is that it doesn’t matter your gender, age, race, economic status, or education – anyone can enjoy the outdoors! You don’t need fancy, expensive shoes or clothing. Shoes with good treads and simple workout clothes will suffice to get you started.

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You might learn something. Many of the local and state parks have trail signs throughout the route to share some knowledge about the land, animals living nearby or history. Take a moment to stop to read these signs. There’s some interesting things to learn!

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Clear your head. Lately, I’ve been heading to the trails on my own more than with others. There’s a lot going on in my head and sometimes I need to slip away without my phone or people to think about things. There’s something about stepping onto the trails, hearing the rustle of the leaves and chirping of birds above you, and the absence of cars. Moments like that are what feed my soul.

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Get exercise and burn some calories. Hiking is great exercise without the tedium of the indoor gym or machines. A few summers ago, I hiked some of the local trails 1-2 times a week with a group of friends. After a few weeks of doing this (and having a LOT of fun), I happened to glance in a mirror that I walked by in my bedroom after a shower. I paused, backed up and thought, “Wow.” My legs had become very toned from the variation of the trails, distance and regularity of hiking. I was especially excited because it’s been tough to tone my left leg after surgery cut and moved so many muscles in my thigh. I was working out without really paying attention because I was enjoying it so much!

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Quality time with friends and family. Some of my best conversations have been hiking on the trail. As I mentioned earlier, for the most part, differences tend to be irrelevant when hiking (and camping) so it’s a great opportunity to share some of yourself and your likes/dislikes (I have discussed pizza, politics, craft beer, cancer, horses, work, fertility, sports, life goals, bucket list destinations, favorite colors, books and so much more!).

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Stage deerYou gain a better appreciation of nature. It’s so important to protect our environment as it provides much benefit to us, not just for enjoyment. The more I’m in the woods, the more I notice variations of trees, plants and flowers. I watch animals build homes, care for their young and forage for food. I try to take my nieces and nephew on the trails as often as we can so they too develop an appreciation and understanding for the environment. It’s a commitment all of us adults need to pass down to younger generations.

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You never know who you may meet in the woods. When I meet other people who also enjoy hiking, I know I’ve met some like-minded people. I’ve joined several hiking groups over the years to meet people with the same interest, and I’m fortunate that many of these people are still friends. The other day I hiked with seven deer, three wild turkeys, a dozen or squirrels, two rabbits and….three people!

 

 
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