Heather's Hangout

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

Finding gratitude in an uncertain world November 21, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 9:00 am
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Grateful for how far I’ve come since cancer treatment.

It is slightly stunning to me that Thanksgiving is this week, starting the whirlwind holiday season. And a stark reminder that the year is quickly winding down. I can’t believe how fast the year went – a testament of the fun and adventures creating my Best.Year.Yet? Or the reality that life seems to speed up the older you get? Hmmm, I’ll choose the first. Haha.

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Life is always going to be a series of ups and downs, right? For every fun adventure, hard-won accomplishment or satisfying moment, you will most likely encounter a moment of disappointment, heartache, frustration at points along the journey. Even love, as beautiful as it can be, often takes us on a bumpy road toward happiness.

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During this time of year, it seems that people focus on gratitude and kindness. I’d love to see people be more dedicated to this practice year round, but am happy to see the practice done at all. And even though I try to focus on daily gratitude, I too pause a little longer this time of year. Such is the time of year, right?

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I’m going to be honest – I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around the approaching holidays. A lot flits through my mind lately, emotions to sort and decisions to be made about the future. I have to remind myself to focus on the present too. Which leads to opportunities to give thanks for all the current goodness in my life. Because I am very lucky. To be alive 20 years past a bone cancer diagnosis. To walk on my own two legs after having my femur replaced with titanium. To find happiness, courage and calm after restarting my life on my own a few years ago. To trust the people in my life. To be optimistic about my future.

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Several family and friends have commented over the past two years they are happy that I’m happier than I seemed in the past. I know the decision that led to the feeling of a heavy weight lifting from my shoulders because I vividly recall feeling startled at the change. I didn’t realize I was carrying so much emotion in my heart and “on my shoulders.” It was equally startling when people randomly commented on how much happier and at peace I seemed. I guess you think you’re happy and content, or convince yourself of these feelings, until you step away from a situation and the clouds clear. Regardless, I’m thankful for how far I’ve come in the past 20 years, and even past few months.

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thankfulsignI trust in myself and the journey I’m on. That took a lot of work and focus on what and who I want in my life. And then finding the courage and commitment to make changes, if needed, and embrace the new experiences with arms wide open and no hesitation. I knew I no longer wanted to settle or stay in a situation because I felt obligated; I instead knew I had to listen to my heart, understand who and what I need, and pursue those in order to have what I truly want in this life. Without apology or hesitation. Life is much too short – and you never when it will change or end – to not focus on who and what you need to be happy – not just sort of happy and content, but REALLY happy. I can not settle for less, not now that I’ve felt and seen the difference. Nor should you, my friends. My heart opened to giving and receiving love, which brought amazing people into my life. I’m still surprised I didn’t meet certain people earlier in my life, but I’m so grateful for their presence now, and hope they’re forever walking with me along our journeys.

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I’m grateful for many things occurring in my Best.Year.Yet. I never dreamed I would log more than 1,400 miles on my road bike this year (compared to barely 300 last year, and probably less in previous years), including a trip across Iowa with LIVESTRONG teammates. I overcame a lot of mental, emotional and physical challenges to accomplish these goals. I’m so very grateful for my healthy body staying strong 20 years past diagnosis, letting me walk every day on my own two legs and reminding me of how far I’ve come since cancer treatment. I’m grateful for the opportunities to help many others affected by cancer, through mentoring, writing, advocacy, meetings with legislators, and simply coming together with like-minded people to make a difference. What an honor and pleasure these moments are for me!

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I’m grateful for the opportunities to explore the world through my travels. And even more grateful for the people who accompanied me, and those I met along the way. So many memories to cherish.

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There are so many people and things I could add to a gratitude list. I am a lucky woman. Wonderful people surround me, my health holds strong, my heart is full of love and happiness. While I admittedly am someone who likes to look to the future (I’m naturally a planner!), I have also learned to embrace every day, and find at least one thing to be grateful for in that day. Because there is always one thing, even if it’s simply waking up (actually a pretty major thing to be grateful for!). One of my favorite quotes is “Wrap your arms around life and give it a hug.” A beautiful daily reminder for all.

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Film retraces bike racing history November 12, 2017

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 9:27 am
Tags: , , , ,

cycling_sunsetI recently saw promotions for a new documentary about a team participating in the 1928 Tour de France. Le Ride is a film by Phil Keoghan (the host of the Amazing Race television show), that tries to recreate the route ridden by the four-man team from Australia and New Zealand. I wanted to see the film so was happy when my cycling club sent notice of a viewing in the area.

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I’ll share some highlights of the film without giving away too much (most of it follows well-documented history of the 1928 event and teams anyway). The film follows New Zealander Harry Watson and his Australian teammates, Ernie Bainbridge, Percy Osborne and Sir Hubert Opperman, on their journey to this great race. Yes, this team only had four riders compared to other teams of 10 (I already felt tired for them upon learning this). They were the first English-speaking team to participate in the Tour.

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Phil did much research on the race and the team, providing interesting insight into the bikes of that period, bike racing, the Tour de France and France in general. I loved watching the many people he met during his research and learning fascinating facts.

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It seemed crazy that he, and his friend, Ben, were going to ride circa 1928 bikes through France, high into the mountains! Especially after being used to the brakes, design, handling and comfort of today’s bikes. These vintage bikes were steel frames with no gears. No shifting during hill climbs or descents. No carbon frame or shocks. They did use some modern day equipment, such as cycling clothing and helmets, which was smart.

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As you may imagine, today’s France is much different than 1928 France. The road system is paved, more expansive and much busier. Some of the route no longer exists. Keep in mind that today’s Tour de France is approximately 2,000 miles; in 1928, the race was over 3,300 miles in 29 days. Yikes! The race back then was meant to eliminate riders, and it did – 164 riders started, 41 finished. It was quite stunning to learn that the cyclists rode more than 100, sometimes 200 miles in a day with climbs of 10,000-20,000 feet. They sometimes biked up to 20 hours in a day, starting at midnight or before dawn. And I thought biking RAGBRAI through Iowa was a physical challenge!

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I can’t tell you how many times my mouth dropped open in surprise, awe or disbelief. I’m already in awe of the grueling physical, mental and emotional challenges that cyclists today master to participate in the Tour de France and other rides. But learning about the riders in 1928? Total respect and awe. My leg with the titanium rod seriously started aching as I thought of the physical challenges facing these riders (I know, I have a hard time turning off the empathy in me)!

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At the end of the film, they showed a picture of the four Australian cyclists before the Tour began and then at the end of the Tour. Have you ever seen images of our U.S. presidents before they start their presidency? And again after? You usually note physical changes, aging and stress/worry lines after these challenging years. Well these notable changes appeared in the riders in less than a month!

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A few of my favorite highlights:

  • Amazingly beautiful scenery captured with great filming skills.
  • The camaraderie between the crew was evident. I often laughed.
  • I loved seeing all the towns they visited. I would have loved to be there, meeting residents and taking in the different areas, cultures and experiences.
  • Learning so much about the evolution of cycling over the decades.
  • I am motivated to someday attend the Tour de France.

The downside to the movie? I’m so anxious to ride my own road bike outside again in warm, sunny weather! I look forward to watching this film again.

 

You are beautiful wearing your bike helmet August 31, 2017

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Post-ride sweaty, happy appearance

I recently enjoyed a beautiful evening bike ride on a local bike trail. While I started out alone, I often encountered other cyclists throughout the 30+ miles who rode alongside for several miles here and there. I loved the friendly people and awesome reminder of how great summer evenings can be.

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At one point, I started to pass a young woman on her bike. She struck up a conversation so I stayed alongside her. We had great conversation and rode an almost perfect pace together. As the miles clicked by, I really enjoyed cycling with her. However, one thing kept nagging at me – she wasn’t wearing a helmet.

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I try to keep opinions to myself on lots of things because I believe people should make decisions best for them and others shouldn’t be quick to judge. But…..she asked me many questions about my Specialized Ruby (and you all know I LOVE my bike) and some tips about being new to cycling. So I decided it was a good opening to mention the helmet.

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She smiled when I suggested wearing a helmet, actually agreed that she really should wear one. Then she asked if I was single. I replied yes, although I had no idea what that had to do with wearing a bike helmet. Turns out, she feels she looks silly in a helmet and her hair is a mess after a ride. What if she met a good-looking guy while biking or at the parking lot? Uh, okay. A whole lot of thoughts raced through my head, including flashes of how crazy, frizzy and completely messy my hair looks after I take off my helmet! I have passed a mirror or reflection after many rides and thought ‘oh my goodness, am I in public looking like that?’ But I can’t recall worrying that a guy won’t find me pretty because I’m sweaty and my hair is a mess after an awesome bike ride. If anything, I want to be with a guy who enjoys participating in these type of activities with me, appreciates the effort it takes to get sweaty and messy, and also understands I clean up pretty nicely.

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I almost replied “I think you’ll be much more beautiful with your head intact.” But you know, I wasn’t sure how to kindly say that. Lol. I also recognize that she is 27 and I am in my early 40s, so I have a bit more ‘worldly experience’ and a few more relationships on my side. I’m at a point in my life where people need to accept me for me. Especially my next significant other. I have learned to be true to myself, particularly over the past few years. The next man I’m with must take me as I am, crazy helmet hair and all. That means the sappy, emotional moments and energetic, dance around the living room moments and confident, take on the world moments and feeling overwhelmed, I need support and encouragement moments and goofy, singing in the car moments and everything in between. I want that man to be willing to share, laugh, love and choose me. To not judge so much and expect me to change who I am. I don’t want to settle for a “sort of happy and make it work because that’s expected” relationship. I want mutual real, true happiness, joy, laughter, support and encouragement in my next relationship. Heck, I want that in my life, whether it’s with a special man, friends or family. I want to enjoy the good moments, work through the tough moments, appreciate the good people in my life and embrace the opportunities awaiting me. That’s why I made the decision to change my life a few years ago and that’s why I wear a helmet every time I bike (and I’d rather not suffer a head injury). I want to do everything possible to be alive to enjoy and experience life.

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When you love what you’re doing, you forget you might look a mess. 🙂

To be honest, I didn’t always wear a helmet when biking. I wore one when biking near traffic but when on the rails to trails routes, I sometimes would simply wear a baseball hat to block the sun. And, frankly, what hit me a few years ago was this realization: I busted my butt to survivor bone cancer and am always careful not to hurt my leg with the titanium rod.  How stupid to survive all that, only to suffer a brain injury because I didn’t have a helmet.

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Oops, I think I digressed. Ha. Focus, lady. Back to my point about wearing a bike helmet. Consider these facts:

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  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that less than half of all Americans who ride bicycles wear helmets.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 45,000 bicycle injuries in 2015 (latest stats), with cyclists age 50-59 having the highest rate of injury
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that head injuries are the cause of death for the majority of bicyclists killed in accidents with automobiles. Helmet use is estimated to reduce the risk of head injury in these cases by 85 percent.
  • Eighty-five percent of bicycle-related head and brain injuries can be prevented by a helmet, according to the Snell Memorial Foundation and Safety Education Center. The center also reports the number of bicycle head injuries annually that require hospitalization “exceeds the total of all head injury cases — including baseball, football, skateboards, scooters, horseback riding injuries.
  • If you’re in any sort of accident with your helmet that may have damaged the helmet’s padding, replace it. The plastic and expandable foam that absorbs the impact and protects your head may no longer able to absorb the impacts. If you notice the plastic cracking, replace it (regardless if you’ve been in an accident).
  • There’s no good research on if a helmet has a ‘shelf life’ but most of what I read suggested replacing a helmet after five years, unless you use it excessively, sweat a lot, wear lots of hair gel, etc. Anything that may make the foam padding decompose, the plastic crack or damages the straps.
  • Make sure your bike helmet meets safety standards and fits properly. If you’re uncertain, visit a reputable bike shop to ask for assistance.
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These are sobering statistics and reminder that biking can be amazing fun and great exercise, but requires a degree of caution and safety (as most activities!). I shared in a previous blog post that a good friend was recently injured after a fall from his bike. Afterwards, I held his bike helmet in my hands, with dings and dents very visible. It was unnerving. His head was thankfully well-protected. What a real example of the importance of wearing a helmet!

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The young woman I biked with? We talked about relationships and being yourself, not settling for anyone – whether significant other, friend or even family – who doesn’t appreciate you for who you are. And we also discussed strategies for post-helmet hair. When we parted miles later, she smiled and promised to buy a helmet. I assured her that she would look beautiful.

 

Tips for solo hiking and biking August 25, 2017

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All this talk of summer being almost over is depressing. I’ve had a fantastic summer! It’s actually been a fantastic year! We’ve been fortunate to have great weather in southeast Michigan, comfortable temps and bearable humidity. Perfect weather for hiking our local nature trails and biking many rails to trails and road options. I love being outside with family and friends, yet also enjoy some quiet “me” time. Let’s admit it though – these are some crazy times we live in so I take precautions when on the trails alone, or even with a group. These precautions are not only to protect me from crazy strangers, but also in case of an accident or emergency. I hope you’re all careful doing whatever activity makes you happy!

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Most backpackers/outdoors people know the 10 essentials to carry. These include a map, compass, sunscreen/ sunglasses, extra clothing, fire starter, headlamp/flashlight, first aid kit, knife, matches, and extra food (REI has a great webpage dedicated to the 10 essentials and updated “essential systems”). Cyclists carry a variety of personal items, but definitely should have a spare bike tube, CO2 cartridge, water, snacks and sunscreen. These important items for both activities are of course in addition to the appropriate gear (shoes, clothing, helmet when biking, etc.).

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On short outings when I’m staying near civilization, such a day hikes or bike rides, I carry the basic items (bike tube, water, etc) but usually skip a fire starter (pretty sure you can’t start a fire at the local parks!) and the other obvious. I also follow some random, basic safety tips that I wanted to share.

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  • Park in a populated, designated area. Always be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to who is near and behind you.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings on the trail too. While I sometimes get wrapped up in thoughts, I am always looking ahead, behind and around me. I always know if someone or something (animal, car, etc) is approaching or if a hazard (hole, rock, etc) is near.
  • Always let someone know where you’re going and an estimated time you’ll be back to your car. If you have no clue when you’ll return, text or call someone when you do get back to your car. Even if you want some alone time it’s smart to not go off without notifying someone. What happens if you get hurt and can’t make it your car? Or darkness comes and you get lost?
  • I wear an ID bracelet when hiking and biking (I wear it whether I’m alone or with people). It lists my name, two emergency contacts, and that I have a titanium rod in my femur and a serious allergy. Road ID is a popular brand with hikers and cyclists but there are many options.
  • Listen to your gut. I’m a friendly, outgoing person. I smile and talk to anyone. But I also try to be smart about the situations I put myself in, especially when alone. A few weeks ago, two fairly obnoxious men were biking along the trail and started making idiotic comments when I came upon them and wanted to pass. I was polite, yet also tried to ignore them. I finally squeezed past them and went on my way. A short while later, I spotted them at the parking lot loading their bikes onto their truck. While I had reached my mileage goal, I decided to keep going and then circle back once they were gone. They were most likely just obnoxious, lewd men, but my instinct said to avoid them so I did.
  • I always take (and use!) sunscreen, snacks and water with me, whether biking or hiking. I also typically bring a hat and sunglasses in case the sun is bright (of course I wear a helmet when biking) and chap stick (who wants dry lips after a windy ride?). If you’re uncertain of the weather, consider rain gear, sweatshirt or a piece of clothing to add or remove if necessary.
  • Since the point of hiking alone into the woods or biking on a quiet trail is to get away from the chaos of life and people, I’d rather not carry my cell phone. However, I usually do in case of emergencies (and admittedly I use the camera all the time). The ringer is on silent though. Of course, keep in mind that you can’t always get a cell signal in the woods.
  • I clip a small, yet loud whistle to my shorts, pants or watch when I’m hiking.
  • I carry my medical insurance card and cash too in my bike saddle bag. On local bike trails, such as the Macomb Orchard Trail or Paint Creek, there are stores or small restaurants to grab a snack, more water or anything else you may need.
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I hope you never experience an emergency on the trail, but better to prepared and safe. What steps do you take to stay safe and smart when on the trails?

 

Favorite memories of biking in Iowa (RAGBRAI) August 3, 2017

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Dipping in the Mississippi River

I made it back to Michigan after a week in Iowa with Team LIVESTRONG. Three loads of clean laundry are ready to be put away. My tent and sleeping bag are aired out and clean. My bike received some TLC. My friends are all at their respective homes. I returned to work yesterday (at least physically; I’m still mentally adjusting). After a week of biking in Iowa with friends at the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), raising awareness and money for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people facing cancer, decompressing from the real world, and achieving a personal goal as a cancer survivor….well, I’m ready for more biking adventures. Or adventures in general.

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While last year was fun being on the support team, it’s true that you don’t really understand RAGBAI until you bike it. My friend told me so many stories from on the route, and I saw picture after picture of fun that I was hooked before I left last year. But I didn’t ‘get’ RAGBRAI until I got on my bike and joined thousands of other cyclists on the route from Orange City to Harper’s Ferry.

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There was a lot to experience and enjoy during the week. Admittedly, it doesn’t usually take much for me to enjoy any adventure that I’m on. I love the excitement of being in new places, trying new activities, food and more, meeting new people, making new memories. I’m a fairly ‘go with the flow’ person, especially on vacation. But I knew this would be a special week. Not only was I attempting to ride my bike many miles in Iowa, raising money for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services, and hanging out with friends, it was also a recognition (personal goal) of 20 years since my bone cancer diagnosis. I needed to show myself that I could accomplish what I set my mind to, titanium rod in my leg and all. While I was nervous driving into the week, there was no doubt that I was going to open myself, my heart, to making the most of this special week.

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I enjoyed so much during the week. Here are just a few of my favorite experiences:

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Love biking with these girls

Spending time with friends. My teammates live around the country so we don’t see each other as often as we’d like. I was excited to spend the week with some of my great friends, and have the opportunity to make new friends. No matter where I was, riding my bike, eating lunch, standing in line for the shower, riding in the RV to the next campsite, driving to Iowa, there were great conversations to be shared. I reinforced special bonds with current friends, and discovered kindred spirits in new friends.

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Riding my bike. Is it funny to admit that I love my bike? I love the freedom and power I feel riding mile after mile. Knowing my legs and my body, which survived some torturous chemo to kill cancer, is strong enough to bike mile after mile. Sometimes I marvel that it took me so long to purchase a road bike, but maybe it was never the right time until the time that I did buy it. I loved biking through Iowa, enjoying the scenery and towns from the freedom of my bike (although I started deeply sighing at the sight of the large wind turbines, which typically meant a lot of wind to bike through/at)! I gained so much confidence as a cyclist by the end of the week (shucks, I can now even stay clipped in and not look down to remove/replace my water bottle. Don’t laugh, I had to work at trusting my balance for this achievement!).

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Welcoming communities. One of my favorite experiences was exploring the small towns along the route. What a way to see Iowa! Some of the towns had banners, bands and community members waving and cheering as the cyclists approached the towns. Many children set up lemonade stands along the road (I stopped at one on Thursday – the little girls were so adorably excited!). The overnight towns hosted entertainment, food and drink vendors, games, and more. Imagine being a small town, with a very small population, that suddenly has an influx of thousands of bikers, tents, RVs, shower trucks, vendors and more! I fell in love with these small towns. So very different from the busy suburbs of metro Detroit.

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Enjoying life. There were some definite emotional ups and downs during the week that brought tears, but overall I laughed a lot. My teammates are funny with the stories and antics we shared. The sun shone most days. My body felt awesome riding my bike. How can you not laugh? I loved the moments of sharing stories with teammates and others along the route. I loved the impromptu whiffle ball game (where I discovered an almost embarrassing competitive side to myself – except I think I laugh too much to be considered serious competitive). I felt healthy, free, relaxed and alive.

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Beautiful camping spot

Meeting new people from all across the world, from all walks of life. I met a doctor, farmer, college student, fellow marketing colleague, teacher, chef, retirees, and bum traveling around the country (that’s how he described himself!). While the average RAGBRAI participant’s age is 46, I saw young, old and in between on bikes. I even saw a dog riding in a basket and Batman.

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Stopping along the route. There are many opportunities to stop along the route for a rest, food or drinks. Back Pocket is a popular ‘watering’ hole to enjoy Iowa craft beer. The ‘pass through’ towns are full of vendors selling food, drinks and merchandise. The meeting town (half way point) is packed with entertainment, food, drinks, merchandise, games and more. These are the best places to people watch, meet up with other teammates and soak up the moments of RAGBRAI.

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Helping others. Team LIVESTRONG is at the event to raise awareness of and funds for the nonprofit’s programs and services that support people affected by cancer. Our team raised $145,000 (you can still donate!). Throughout the week, I had wonderful opportunities to share information on LIVESTRONG, listen to others’ cancer stories and share my own, and my dad’s, to help others. Every moment was inspiring and motivating. I always come home from these events wondering how else I can help others in their journey with cancer. There is still so much to be done; I’m grateful I can help where I can.

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The week could not have closed in a more special way. At the end of our journey, standing together at the Mississippi River, one of my teammates asked some of us to stick around. When she approached me and took my hand, she asked me if I’d help Terry share our adventure. Terry is her husband who died from cancer. As she sprinkled his ashes in my hand, my heart immediately warmed at the honor of sharing this moment with her, and him (and of course I cried at the honor being part of a beautiful moment). As a small group, we stood together on the dock and sprinkled the ashes into the Mississippi River and across the soft breeze. As I looked at these special people, and at the great river flowing beside me, as I heard laughter and yells of accomplishment from others dipping their bikes in the river, I was reminded again of how precious life is, and how grateful I am to be alive to enjoy it.

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So, my friends, spend your days being happy. Sometimes we must make tough decisions to find that happiness. Sometimes we have to struggle first to then find our peace and contentment. Sometimes we have to look in the opposite direction to find the path we are supposed to walk. Life is full of adventures. I’m ready for the next one.

 

Lessons learned biking across Iowa (on RAGBRAI) August 1, 2017

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I made it to the Mississippi River!

I did it. I made it across Iowa. I biked 200+ miles, raised money to support people facing cancer, and achieved a personal goal while acknowledging 20 years since my cancer diagnosis.

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If you follow my blog, you know that I’ve been training all spring (okay, more like the past year!) to join Team LIVESTRONG at the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) to raise funds for and awareness of LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people affected by cancer. I did this in part to honor 20 years from my bone cancer diagnosis and in memory of my dad who always believed in helping others before cancer took him from us. It was a special way to help others facing the disease that forever changed my family. And I did it.

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When I decided to join Team LIVESTRONG on RAGBRAI, I’m not sure I really understood what I was getting into (ha, always a good reason to throw yourself into something!). A friend wanted me to ride last year so I decided to help the support team/staff last year for a few days to get an idea of the event, but I didn’t ride. By the end of that week, I was inspired enough to go home, buy a bike and train for the hundreds of miles I planned to attempt (read that blog). And train I did (with many thanks to friends who shared endless tips/insight into cycling, rode with me or encouraged my crazy idea). I admit that I was ridiculously nervous in the days leading up to the event. I guess I doubted my ability to bike so many miles with the titanium rod in my leg (I seriously need to stop doubting myself. I’m starting to annoy myself.). Guess what? I did what I set out to do.

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If it’s possible to say you’re proud of yourself without sounding stuck on yourself, then I’ll say it. I trained hard, absorbed as many tips and tricks as I could, asked a zillion questions (sorry and thank you to my coach), read blogs, watched videos, mentally and physically prepared, raised funds for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services. While I wanted to ride the entire 400+ miles of the 7-day event, I took my surgeon’s advice and rested in between the biking days, achieving almost 200 miles. I felt physically awesome after each day. My leg started bugging me as the week wore on, but I’m convinced that it’s from sleeping on the ground in my tent (a perfect reason to invest in a thicker sleeping pad) rather than biking (and I feel fine now). I learned enough to be even better next year (eek, did I just type NEXT YEAR?).

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The week brought many high moments and some lows (a very dear friend had a health

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So fun being on a bike!

issue on the bike, causing him to fall and be injured. He thankfully will recover but it caused some terrifying moments of worry). I learned SO many things about me, other people, biking, Iowa, and life. Enough to fill half my new journal while in Iowa and inspire multiple blogs (if I had the energy to write that much at this time)! For now, I’ll share just a few lessons with you.

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There are some really good people around me: I’ve shared in the past about the awesome camaraderie and kindness of my LIVESTRONG friends. As much as cancer sucks, it is a common bond that ties many of us together. From the other RAGBRAI newbies to the multi-year veterans, I shared many laughs, hugs, tears, drinks, jokes, smoothies, dances and, of course, miles on the bike with my 70+ teammates. They pushed, pulled, encouraged, cheered and supported me. I have deeper bonds with those who started as friends, and many new friends. And outside of the team, I was surrounded by thousands of other cyclists. As I waited 30 minutes in line for a shower, I had a wonderful conversation with a mother and daughter who I ironically rode beside me for a few miles earlier in the day. They recognized my Michigan Awesome jersey and tribute cards. It was a great opportunity to share LIVESTRONG’s programs and services, and simply get to know two friendly women. I thought it a little weird when a man randomly commented on my ‘beautiful scar’ running along my femur, only to learn his wife is a also a bone cancer survivor and he was going to tell her of my accomplishment on the bike to motivate her to stay strong. There was the young woman who brought me to tears and shared a hug as she talked about her dad also dying from multiple myeloma. And the many others who told stories of how LIVESTRONG’s programs and services helped them or others. These stories, these moments, filled me so much with motivation, joy, appreciation and sadness (that this disease still affects too many).

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I’m stronger – mentally, physically and emotionally – than I give myself credit for. This week taught me that I need to believe in myself more. I admit that I was ready to throw up that first morning as we pedaled out of the campsite. But a few miles in, I found myself smiling at friends as we shared the beautiful morning on our bikes, and a few miles later, I settled in as we rolled along the road, and a few miles later, I laughed aloud at the pure joy of being on my bike. As the week progressed and I biked more miles, helped take care of my friend, laughed until my stomach hurt, cried, listened, shared, hugged and simply felt myself be in the moment, I realized that I may never have all the answers to life, but I’m doing a pretty good managing it right now.

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Sunrise on the runway.

We live in a beautiful country. When I told people that I was joining LIVESTRONG to bike across Iowa, many people replied, “You’re spending your vacation in Iowa? In the July heat?” Well, yes. I’ve come to love Iowa. As we moved east across the state, the land started to roll into hills and the scenery turned even prettier. I was in awe of our campsite in Waukon on the last night as we were tucked at the end of a runway at the municipal airport overlooking farms filled with soybeans, corn and cows. The sunset’s colors streaming across the skyline made my breath catch and the glorious night sky filled with stars brought tears to my eyes as I thought how incredibly fortunate I am to be alive to experience this magic.

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Life is short, so don’t waste it. When you or someone close to you endures something serious, it makes you hit pause on life for a few moments (or it should). You can’t help but be reminded that life is precious. As cliché as it is, it’s true that we only get one life. Don’t settle for less. Twenty years ago, I had that reminder slapped in my face when I was diagnosed with cancer. Thirteen years ago when my dad died from cancer, it struck me again. There’s been many other moments throughout life to reinforce that thought. It’s why I search for happiness in all I do; why I left an unhappy situation to seek true love and joy; I explore places away from home to meet new people and experiences; I try not to hesitate to share how I feel; I push myself to be a better and stronger person;  I embrace new adventures and opportunities, I try to laugh and soak in the joy of life.

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Sometimes you have to throw caution, responsibility, worry and fear into the

HH_bike_IA2017

My fun bike, Ruby.

cornfield and ride your bike. Despite being nervous about riding the first day, I knew that I would be okay once I got on my bike. I trained on this bike, I fit so well on this bike and I truly love riding this bike. There is something about being on the bike that eases every pressure in my body and mind. It’s a freedom that’s hard to describe, especially as a bone cancer survivor. When my femur was replaced with a titanium, I gave up a lot of freedom. I can’t ride my beloved horses, run, play tennis, volleyball nor many of the activities that I once enjoyed. I think of this rod in my leg from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I lay back down. Don’t get me wrong – I am forever grateful to have my leg because there is an alternative. I never want to hurt my leg, but I need freedom. And riding my bike gives me that. Very little beats the moments when you feel the wind tickle your skin, the sun warm your face (while wearing sunscreen) and the power of your body moving with the bike. You have to soak in the scenery, breathe in the air and think of nothing but what’s around you.

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It’s easy to make a difference in the lives of others. More than 70 people came together to bike across Iowa to raise awareness of and money for programs that support people facing cancer. So many of my teammates have their own stories of cancer in their lives, and also had stories of sharing LIVESTRONG with others as they biked the route. It takes one person to make a difference. Together, we raised more than $140,000 for these programs and services (thanks also to many of you who donated to our cause).

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As fun as this trip was, and as proud as I am of myself, the point of this trip was, of course, more than my story. It was about coming together as a team for LIVESTRONG, for people affected by cancer, raising money for programs and services that support thousands of people fighting this terrible disease, sharing stories and information to ensure we are all one in the fight. And it was a heck of a lot fun being able to help others.

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There’s still time to donate to our LIVESTRONG team’s fundraising efforts to help more people facing cancer. Click here to donate.

 

8 reasons I’m excited to bike across Iowa July 12, 2017

HH_bikeLS52017The countdown for leaving for RAGBRAI to join LIVESTRONG in Iowa is quickly getting smaller as the “BIG day” is almost here (eek!). Some days, I can’t wait for the adventure to begin. Other days…..yeah, well, other days I admit I practice my breathing exercises to remain calm. It’s a lot of darn miles to ride on a bike. But I’ve been riding, a LOT. My leg and knee have, thankfully, felt amazing, and my butt, well, it’s getting there (yep, padded shorts and chamois cream are my best friends).

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This ride will be worth the anxiety and nerves. Because at the end of the day, Team LIVESTRONG is raising a lot of money – more than $120,000 so far! (you can help increase that total by donating here) – for programs and services that support people affected by cancer. And I’m personally excited to prove to myself that a thing like bone cancer causing my femur to be replaced with titanium can’t stop me from biking a few hundred miles to help other cancer survivors. (You can read more about why I’m biking across Iowa in this past blog post)

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As the “BIG day” approaches, there are many aspects of RAGBRAI that I’m excited to experience. Here’s a few things that keep me motivated:

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Raising funds for and awareness of LIVESTRONG’s mission, programs and services – LIVESTRONG offers some outstanding programs for cancer survivors, caregivers and people touched by disease. Whether newly diagnosed or out of treatment, the organization provides support at every point of your journey. From direct services to community programs to school programs and more, I’m grateful to know there is so much available to help others. If you haven’t read their manifesto, you should. These words are so powerful to me – “We believe in life. Your life. We believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of your being. And that you must not let cancer take control of it…..Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.” I was stopped in the airport a few months ago by a woman who noticed my LIVESTRONG shirt and yellow wristband and wanted to share how useful the guidebook and journal were during her cancer journey. I love hearing these stories and am happy to be a part of the organization as a volunteer.

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Team LIVESTRONG (aka “my tribe”) – I’m most excited to hang out with this team, my team, my friends, my yellow family. We all start with the common bond of this terrible disease, as cancer survivors, caregivers, family members and friends of cancer survivors, family members and friends who have lost someone to cancer. It doesn’t matter what circumstance brought us together, we have a bond. In addition to this bond that ties us together, these are good people who find many ways to fight against the disease. They commit to spending a week on a bike, raising money for LIVESTRONG’s programs to support others. So no one has to face cancer alone. I’m already in awe of them, and humbled and honored to be part of their team.

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The people I ride for – While there is never a day that goes by that I don’t think of being a cancer survivor in some way, there is also never a day that goes by that I don’t think of the many other people who are also cancer survivors or died from this disease. My dad is always in the forefront of my mind, as I miss him daily. I’ve said good bye to too many people because of this disease, many of them way too young (since I was diagnosed at 21 and treated in pediatrics). I’ve also been blessed to have met thousands of cancer survivors in the past 20 years, all of whom reinforce that our fight against this disease is far from over. So throughout that week, and always, these people will be in my heart and mind.

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The cycling jerseys – Let’s not stereotype – I know it sounds like a girl thing to focus on clothing but that’s not my intent (and, trust me, not all cycling jerseys are fashionable). LIVESTRONG designed an awesome team jersey that we’ll all be wearing on the first and last day to help raise awareness of the organization and team. Then, we’ll wear our tribute jersey, designed in memory of the wife of one of our team members who died from cancer, featuring some of her favorite things. I also have a cool Michigan jersey (that would the state of Michigan, not university…I bleed maroon and gold, friends) and some other fun options. I like seeing the variety of jerseys that others wear. And, okay, yes, you might as well look good if you’re biking 50+ miles in the Iowa heat (or any heat).

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Garmin_LSbandMy personal goal/peace of mind/’take that, stupid cancer’ – I shared in a previous blog the challenges, physical and mental, I face as a bone cancer survivor. Super grateful to be alive and have both of my own legs. But unable to fully quiet the whispers of doubt, frustration and insecurity in my physical limitations from the titanium rod in my leg. I’ll be honest…this training is certainly a good source of confidence building. This experience has also shown me how many people have more faith in my ability than I do. So sometimes I simply need to remind myself that I survived cancer and can do anything I put my mind to. Including bike across Iowa. I’m proud of myself for taking on this challenge and for all of the training and focus I’ve put into it. I get so nervous about hurting my leg that sometimes I forget to simply enjoy the activity or moment. Enough with the doubt and anxiety, it’s time to kick some ass and remind myself who’s in charge of my attitude.

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Biking – Despite the nerves at biking so many miles for multiple days, I’m really looking forward to being on my bike. I love Ruby (my road bike for those who haven’t met her) and the more I ride, the more I enjoy biking. The freedom, the satisfaction of a great workout on my legs, different places to explore on a bike, new people you interact with on the road, adventures in the making. I’m also excited to ride with so many people from LIVESTRONG, getting to know them better and making memories to hold dear for decades to come.

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Meeting people – It may not surprise you that I talk to people almost everywhere I go (like mother, like daughter. Right, Mom?). Isn’t this one of the beauties of life – learning about all walks of life from a variety of people? You never know who you may meet or what you may learn from others. There will be thousands of people at this event from all across the country so there are bound to be some great encounters!

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Exploring Iowa – I love to travel and explore new places (and old!). Plus, my grandma was born and raised in northern Iowa, my mom spent summers at the family farm and my family took some vacations to the state when I was a young child. So I feel a little kinship to the state. 🙂

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If you’d like to support LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people with cancer, click here to donate to my fundraising page. For every $10 donation increment, you’ll be entered to win a Michigan themed gift bag!

 

 
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