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

My birthday wishes September 12, 2017

My birthday wishes

Birthdays have always been special days in my family. My parents made each new year fun and happy. We didn’t have bounce houses, farm animals or huge parties like are in excess today, but I loved the sleepovers, house full of family and friends, and laugh-filled celebrations with my favorite Angel food cake.

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When I was diagnosed at 21 with bone cancer, appreciating and celebrating life took on new meanings. I spent my 22nd birthday in the hospital hooked up to an IV of chemo, feeling too nauseous to eat cake (I think my then-pregnant older sister and favorite resident doctor enjoyed my piece!). I promised myself that every birthday from that year on would be a time to reflect on life and remind myself to wrap my arms around the joy of life.

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EEdwards_lifequoteToday, on my birthday, I’m in Washington, DC, ready to join hundreds of other cancer advocates on Capitol Hill in meetings with our various legislators to discuss the importance of increased funding for cancer research and supporting cancer-related programs. It’s a long way to come from that birthday 20 years ago spent in the hospital fighting for my life and leg. A slew of emotions are whirling through me.

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Every year that I celebrate another birthday is a joyous occasion for me. And not one that I take for granted. I will soon have spent more of my life as a cancer survivor than not. What an emotional accomplishment. The past 20 years have been full of ups and downs. I whispered goodbye to my dad as he died from cancer, battling survivor’s guilt almost daily when I think of the life he’s missing. I’ve picked pieces of my heart up more than once, broken sometimes because of my naivete and other times by people I should have been able to trust. I worked tirelessly to remind my body how to walk after surgery…twice. I felt lost and alone many times. I rethought Plan A so many times that I no longer remember what my original life plan was! I’ve learned life is hard. There’s no guidebook, no getting back lost time, no map, no time outs, no re-dos to change something. Sometimes life knocks you flat on your tush. Again and again. And yet…..life is still beautiful. There is sunshine, laughter, kindness, unexpected love, blue skies, hugs, music, mountains, beaches and So.Much.More.

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In January, I dubbed this year as my Best.Year.Ever. Of course I had no idea what the year would bring because I’ve certainly learned you can’t control all that will happen, but I needed goals. And, darn, it’s been a good year. I’m at the lowest weight and best overall health that I’ve been in many years, I logged more miles on a bike than I ever thought possible (the year isn’t over, and I’m already planning how to ride more next year!), I’ve traveled to new places and experienced fun adventures, I’ve been involved with amazing cancer advocacy opportunities with several more exciting possibilities on the horizon, I’ve met so many awesome people and strengthened relationships with people who bring so much joy to my life, and the list goes on. Of course, there are things I’d like to still accomplish with my career and personal life….but there’s still plenty of time left in the year!

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hh_sunset2009

What will a new day bring?

I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone over the years but none more so than almost two years ago when I decided to change the negativity, mundane and discontented cycle my life had slipped into. It was unnerving, very unnerving, to step into the unknown by myself. I had to ignore the doubters and really focus on what I wanted out of life. But I had to do it. For me. And I can honestly say that I didn’t expect to find so much joy, contentment, adventure and satisfaction from those changes. I didn’t realize how much I was holding back happiness until I decided I was worth it and deserved it. Was it easy to leave a relationship and life I thought I wanted and society said I should stay in? Not at all. But I wanted, and needed, to open my heart to the possibility of true love, happiness and real life. And, no, life hasn’t been all sunshine and dancing unicorns; that’s not how life works. But, heck, it’s been good.

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I had a recent conversation with a friend relating to religion and spiritual views. It got me thinking about life in general. It reinforced that just because society says you should think this, or live your life ‘this way,’ the truth is you must do what works for you. And that sometimes is difficult. Because other people may get hurt, or it takes more courage than we’re used to, or others tell us it’s not right, or stepping over that edge into the unknown is heart-stopping. Sometimes, actually often, life takes us on a very unexpected path. Maybe you find a career that you surprisingly enjoy, maybe you meet someone who captures your heart at ‘the wrong’ time (by the way, don’t waste life waiting for the right time), maybe your health doesn’t stay as perfect as hoped. That’s all okay. I know it can be scary, tiring and worrisome. If we let it. Because sometimes the people and experiences we encounter, that are off the ‘traditional path’ of life, are the very ones for us. I’ve learned that often the unexpected moments, plans and people turn out to be exactly what we need to help us find our ultimate path in life, joy and love.

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I’m feeling a bit philosophical this year, and I realize I’m babbling a bit. But, hey, it’s my birthday and sometimes turning a year older makes you pause to think about life. I believe it’s important to check in with yourself every so often.

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What’s my birthday wish? I have a few (again, it’s my birthday so bear with me!). You all find happiness. You find courage to live the life you want. Don’t waste a day. Don’t be afraid to open your heart. Take a chance on adventure and happiness, take care of your health and body, explore the neighborhood and world around you. Share your feelings with people you care about, help someone, be kind, stand up for others. Don’t sit on the couch watching the days go by. When I close my eyes and make my birthday wish, I know what I hope for my life. If you had a wish, what would it be? Think about it…..and go for it!

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You are beautiful wearing your bike helmet August 31, 2017

HH_Carolynjersey

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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HH_bikePeachride82017

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.

 

19 years (and counting) June 27, 2017

Family_91998

One of my favorite family pics taken 19 years ago after treatment.

Today marks 19 years since I finished treatment for bone cancer. Nineteen years since I walked out of the hospital, on my own two legs. Bald and skinny. Alive. I still vividly recall breathing in the fresh air, lifting my face to the sunshine….and bursting into tears. Tears of relief at being done with the hell treatment, tears of anxiety at what my new life would be, tears of joy at being alive.

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I had no idea what my new life as a cancer survivor would bring. I was 22, on the cusp of starting my adult life. Worried about a career, wondering if any guy would like me as a cancer survivor, anxious to figure out what activities I might be able to participate in, ready to “feel healthy” again. I really wanted to get in a car, head home and never think about cancer again.

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But that wouldn’t happen. Because I am a cancer survivor. Thankfully. And while I admit I spent several months post-treatment trying to move away from my cancer journey and pretend I was my pre-cancer young adult self, the blunt reality was that cancer had changed me. Good and bad. And so I had to figure out how to embrace the new me and my new life. The past 19 years have been full of challenges and accomplishments. Heartache and laughter. Disappointments and fun surprises. Sitting on the couch and exploring the world. I’ve been…..well, living life.

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A fellow cancer survivor and I recently discussed how cancer has affected our lives. In so many ways. Most significantly, it’s the one thing we think about every single day. It’s of course hard to forget I had cancer. If the memories of weeks of chemo and the harsh side effects weren’t so vividly embedded in my brain, the titanium rod acting as my left femur and part of my tibia  provide a daily attention grab.

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But each day is about so much more than my story. I think of my dad’s fight with the disease and never-closed hole in my heart as I miss him. I think of Sara, Josh, Mikki, Alex, David, Michael, Chuck, Travis and too many others who don’t get to breathe in fresh air or feel the sun warm their faces. I think of Andrea, Terry, Jeff, Amy, Samantha, Lauryn, Cassandra, Kay, Mary, Jonny, Elizabeth, Luke, Tim and millions more who also appreciate life after facing cancer.

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MtHood_hh92010

Ready to explore each new day.

When I am scared or nervous to do something or share my emotions with someone, I remember I faced cancer. Nothing can scare me more. I have stared at a monster, fallen down terrified, and stood up to stare back. Cancer has taught me to search for the good in my life and in those who I welcome into my life.

My life has been so influenced and changed by cancer. How can it not be? It struck me recently that I have almost lived longer as a cancer survivor than not. Yes, I am blessed. Forever grateful. Because cancer brought me:

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Courage. Strength. Opportunities. Laughter. Friends. Motivation. Gratitude. Awareness. Kindness. Appreciation. Joy. Achievement. LOVE.

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Some of the best lessons:

  • Do not let life pass you by. Enjoy every day.
  • Share your gratitude by helping others.
  • Do  not turn away from love, even if it doesn’t lead to the path you intended. It doesn’t mean that path is wrong. Embrace every opportunity for love in your life.
  • Know when to let go of the wrong people and hold tight to the right people.
  • Feel joy, every day. Share joy.
  • Breathe in the fresh air, breathe out your fears, hesitations and regret.
  • Open your heart and mind to the possibilities a new day brings.
  • Sing. No matter who is listening. Sing. Dance. Laugh.
 

Still learning lessons from my dad June 18, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 1:57 pm
Tags: , ,
Family1980

We were a tight-knit family from the start.

Father’s Day seems to creep up on me every year.

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Perhaps because it is like every day for me. It is a day without my dad. I recall the memories of our time together, and ponder the many moments that he has missed in my life, and our family, since his death from cancer. My sisters and I were fortunate to have a dad who was ‘there’ for us. My parents were an active part of our childhood, from activities to helping with homework to family outings and more. I am blessed that I never doubted for any second the love and support that my dad had for his daughters (and my mom still has).

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Since we have always been a close family, his death had a significant impact on our lives, causing a deep hole that aches less over the years, but never will fully close. I think of him often. When I decided to buy a new home on my own, I knew he would be proud that I worked hard to afford it. When I made an offer on my new home, I thought how convenient it would be to have him inspect my house (he was a home builder). When I needed to coordinate contractors before I moved, I thought how he would have had a list of people to call. As I make a (growing) list for the handyman I need to hire, I think how easy it would be for him to complete my list (because he would have been insulted if I even thought of hiring someone!). As I still figure out this new chapter of life, deciding on my long-term career goals, dating again, travel plans and more, I think how amazing it would be to have him sitting across from me, listening and giving input when I needed it. As I advocate on behalf of cancer survivors, I know he would be proud. As I prepare to bike across Iowa with LIVESTRONG, I know he would encourage me and remind me to have faith in myself.

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The great thing about my dad is that during his time with us, in our presence, he shared many stories and taught us many lessons that traverse through these years without him in our presence. Just the other day, I was pondering the best way to hang a new shelf and I swear I felt him standing beside me right before my ‘aha’ moment. Some of the lessons that he shared…..

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Be smart. Get educated in school so you can have a career that allows you to be independent and happy, and get educated outside of school about the world around you. There are so many lessons to be learned simply by paying attention to what’s in front of you.

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Be a woman who can take care of yourself, yet also be willing to let a man support and be there for you (and don’t settle for a man who is unwilling or able to do this). My parents raised my sisters and me to be able to do many things around the house, in the kitchen, outside in the yard and through varying aspects of our lives. My dad also showed my sisters and me what it is to have a man respect and love you, as he did my mom, by pitching in with cooking, chores, supporting her career choices, listening to her and us, asking for opinions and more.

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Laugh and be silly. If you didn’t know my dad well enough, you might see a serious, sometimes scowling man on the outside. But when you got to know him, you saw his loving, funny and goofy side. He loved practical jokes and playing games. He showed me the joy of letting your guard down and enjoying the moment. And thinking about his sometimes too serious side reminds me not to be so serious all the time.

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Trust in love. My mom turned my dad down multiple times before agreeing to go on a date. He said he knew the moment she smiled at him that he needed her in his life so kept asking. Many people didn’t think they would make it very long due to varying circumstances, yet they trusted in each other and their love (and were married almost 35 years before he died). I often marvel at how fortunate my sisters and I are to have grown up with such an example of love triumphing, and I often hope my future husband and I will be brave enough to trust in our love overcome anything life throws at us. I have learned that you never know when love will stroll into your life. But to trust in love with someone else, you have to trust yourself, your judgement and what you want.

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Wishing all dads a very Happy Father’s Day, today and every day!

 

20 of my favorite activities May 28, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 12:56 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,
trails

Ready to explore?

One of my favorite pieces of the start of spring and summer weather is the opportunity to sit outside on the deck, at the park, or anywhere outdoors and enjoy good conversations with family and friends. I’ve been doing that recently and several of our conversations have drifted to what we’d do if we didn’t have to be at the office every day, whether we won the Lotto, retired or some other plan arose to keep us financially independent. It makes me think about all the activities that I would love to do more regularly if I had more time. I don’t think I would get bored!

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Here are 20 of my favorite activities (in no particular order):

    1. Hike
    2. Bike
    3. Read
    4. Garden
    5. Dance
    6. Sing
    7. Write
    8. Make candles
    9. Photography
    10. Geocache
    11. Camp
    12. Wine tasting
    13. DIY craft projects
    14. Relaxing with good people
    15. Beer tasting
    16. Puzzles
    17. Golf
    18. Volunteer
    19. Try new food recipes
    20. Road trips
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What activities keep you busy? What would you try if you had more free time?

 

Celebrating 20 years of life after cancer March 30, 2017

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

Find joy and peace in life.

A few weeks ago it dawned on me that my 20-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis occurs in May. I usually celebrate my cancer anniversary as the day I finished treatment, free from hospitals, chemo and the terrifying weight of that disease (there’s still a weight but different than going through treatment). Recognizing my diagnosis is important to me too. Cancer changed my life. For better and worse. I was diagnosed at 21, on the cusp of becoming an independent adult, with all the excitement and hope for life that only a young adult can truly muster. Facing a disease will change anyone’s outlook on life but when you’re a young adult who doesn’t really know anything about the real world, it sets your life on a completely new path. For better and worse.

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Since it struck me that it’s been 20 years, vivid memories have come rushing back (of course). I recall the ache in my knee that taunted me sporadically for more than a year, yet I kept canceling doctor appointments because college fun (um, and studies) kept me busy. I hear the quiet warning in my head wondering why my knee was hurting more consistently. I can feel the stunned anxiety and stir of fear when the doctor at the urgent care center explained my knee x-ray showed a possible tumor. I remember the guilt of making my parents and sisters worry so much and assuring them that I would be okay, then sobbing in fear in the privacy of my bedroom. I see myself holding a basin as my nurse started my first chemo drip (it took a few more days to begin puking my guts out from the poison). I feel my hair falling out in clumps. I know the determination of making my leg muscles work again so I could walk after surgery replaced my femur with titanium.

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Through these memories, many others also surface. The kindness and determination of my surgeon, oncologists, nurses and medical team. The outpouring of support and love from family, friends and even strangers who saw a bald young woman on crutches for so many months. The bonding with other cancer survivors. The deepening of an appreciation for the simple things in life (fresh air, blue skies, flowers, hugs, pressing my face into a horse’s mane, the kiss of my little niece, eating without throwing up). The strength and courage that grew in my heart. The new love of life that blossomed in my soul. The friends who came into my life, thanks to cancer, and who touched my heart in ways I will never forget. The adventures and opportunities that have arisen from being called a cancer survivor.

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Ireland_HHkerry

Travel to fun places, like Ireland!

I recently wrote of advice that I would share with my 21-year old self as she underwent chemo and surgery. Someone once told me that I should ‘move on’ from cancer. That’s a tough thing to do since I AM a cancer survivor. I didn’t ask for the title but it’s part of who I am. And, frankly, I am so very thankful to call myself a survivor because the alternative sucks. Cancer impacted my life, for better and worse. There is no doubt.  My entire life path changed due to my cancer diagnosis at 21, then again when my dad died from the disease. But I can’t say that it’s been all bad. Maybe that’s because I won’t let it. My attitude, thoughts and actions have tried to be positive and purposeful. It’s the best I can do. Throughout the past 20 years, I have learned some positive lessons. I share some of these with you as we walk through life:

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  • Give thanks every morning you wake that you are alive to enjoy another day. Count at least three blessings before bed. There is always something to be grateful for in your life.
  • Laugh as much as possible. Laughter really is one of the best medicines.
  • Surround yourself with positive people (and yes, you can still be a realist and positive).
  • Smell the flowers. Even the stinky ones. Flowers are a beautiful symbol of new life.
  • Be active. Find an activity you enjoy and do it. Moving your body keeps you healthy, physically fit and helps you enjoy life.  I stay as active as my leg allows and have found many activities that I enjoy so don’t feel like I’m working out!
  • Don’t skip regular doctor appointments and preventive screenings, including skin, colorectal, cervical and breast cancer screenings.
  • Embrace love. Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Take a chance, knowing that love, even in fairy tales, isn’t always easy. But it will be worth it when you find the right person.
  • Travel outside of your hometown, current city and state. Learn about other cultures.
  • See a live play or musical at least once at a community theater, on Broadway, wherever. Appreciate the talent, story and magic behind these performances.
  • Have dance parties – with yourself, friends, kids, pets. I usually was the first one on the dance floor at clubs during college, which is surprising when I think back since I was incredibly shy any other time. Even now I catch myself dancing while cooking in the kitchen, at work when I need a break (behind my closed office door!), folding laundry, hanging with my nieces and nephew, or whenever the urge hits. Just get lost in the music and fun.
  • Know that it’s okay to fail sometimes. The greatest lesson is what you learn.
  • Take lots of pictures and be in lots of pictures. Capturing great memories, trips, people and moments in your life can bring joy in the future. While I have hundreds of pictures on my smartphone and digital camera, I also print and frame many of my favorite memories and people to see throughout my home. I love walking by those frames and smiling at the reminders of those moments.
  • Volunteer in your community. Helping others is, of course, the right thing to do in today’s society (at least in my humble opinion). We are all fortunate in our lives in one way or antother so I’m a believer that we ALL can give back in some way. People need to know there is kindness still in the world. Plus, helping others often helps yourself – it brings gratitude and joy. Trust me.
  • Pay attention to politics. Decisions are made by a small number of people that greatly affect, both positively and negatively, millions of people. Including you and me. Know what’s happening in your local community, in your state and at the federal level. Don’t be afraid to contact your elected officials. We still live in a democracy. They work for us.
  • Make peace with the people who hurt you. You don’t necessarily have to verbally say it, but at least learn to let go of anger and hurt. Forgiving someone ultimately heals you and allows you to move on with freedom and an open heart.
  • Face your fears. We often learn great lessons by recognizing why something or someone stirs fear and uncertainty. Fear sometimes is the red flag that we need to pay attention, and other times, it’s a hindrance to great success, happiness and love. Listen to your emotions to determine why you feel the fear and then face it.
  • Be okay with alone time. In a society that makes it easy to be connected ALL THE TIME, it sometimes feels like my brain is always connected and overloaded. I need quiet time to regroup and refresh my brain and emotions. I love nothing more than having ‘me’ time to read, hike, bike, write, garden or even simply sit on the deck feeling the warmth of the sun and soft breeze. Whether I’m single or in a relationship, I need that ‘me’ time every so often. I think it’s important for everyone to appreciate alone time.
  • Learn something new every month. Try a new recipe, practice some words in a foreign language, read a book, play the guitar or piano, visit an art museum, listen to a new band. Whatever your interests, expand your knowledge and you’ll expand your fun and enjoyment of life.
  • Make friends of all ages and backgrounds. When I make a mental list of my friends, it pleases me to know they fit into an incredibly wide age bracket, have varying education and professional occupations, are talented in a variety of activities, are both genders, married and single, children and childless, and have experienced a myriad of life circumstances that make each person unique and special. They all bring such different perspectives of life and fill my heart with different appreciation.
  • Appreciate your life. We only get one body and one life. Make the most of it. Enjoy every day. Choose joy, love, kindness, happiness and hope.
 

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

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

Enjoy every day!

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

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

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

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xray

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:

2

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.

2

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.

2

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.

2

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).

2

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.

 

 
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