Heather's Hangout

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

Celebrating 20 years of life after cancer March 30, 2017

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


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.


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.


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:

  • 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.

Good books are difficult to put down March 3, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 3:45 pm
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It’s no secret that I love to read. When I need to relax, escape from the real world or decompress, I pick up a book.


backmanbookI love being part of book clubs because I learn about books that I otherwise might not know about (gasp!). One such author is Fredrik Backman. I recently read two of the Swedish author’s books and loved both. They were funny and touching. I learned about his book, My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, from one of my book clubs so was happy that the library had it immediately available.


My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry is about a young girl and her grandmother. The young girl, Elsa, is a bit of loner without friends at school, she gets picked on and is smart and sassy. Her grandmother is eccentric, wild and does her own thing. When she dies (not giving it away as it’s part of the summary on the book!), she leaves a series of notes that takes Elsa on adventures. The reader is introduced to many fairy tales and characters, which all fall into place as the book progresses (so don’t stop reading!). This was a book that made me laugh aloud, cry, think about life and love, cheer for certain characters and boo others. I was almost sorry when the book ended.


As soon as that book ended, I looked up Fredrik’s other books. A Man Called Ove received many great reviews so I added that to my list. As luck would have it, I went to an event with a sorority sister who handed me a copy of the book that she received as a present. I was touched that she thought of me when she finished, knowing how much I love to read. I’ll admit I lost several hours of sleep to this book as I couldn’t put it down at night! The book focuses on Ove, a seemingly cranky man. But of course there’s more to this man than the surface and you soon get glimpses of his kind side as you encounter his neighbors and learn about his life. While I realize this is a fiction book, there were many moments that made me get choked up and believe in true love.


Both of his books are the type of books that make me pause after reading the last page, enjoying and processing the lessons, characters and emotions. A sign of a great author!


Back to basics in the new year (5 goals for 2017) December 30, 2016

A few months back a friend talked me into going to see a tarot card reader to find out what’s in store for my future. I had never been to one and admit I had bit of trepidation. What might she tell me?


Cheers to a new year!

The woman was very welcoming and sweet. She asked what I might want to focus on learning. I really didn’t have a specific focus; mostly wondering if, after making some major life changes in the early year, I was on the right path and what might come in the future, if she could tell. I didn’t admit that I wasn’t sure I really believed these cards could tell about my life…but I was willing to give it a try. At this point in my life, I feel so open to new experiences (one of my new mottos is “bring it on, life.”)! I shuffled the deck and then she started laying out cards on the table. I waited with bated breath while she studied the cards. Then she smiled and said, “Wow you’ve been through a lot, but there so much positive energy and love in your future.” Well how about that? I could have walked out with that bit of refreshing news, but she had more to share. As we talked about the cards’ various meanings, it admittedly was a bit eerie when she commented on things that had happened in my life (health challenges, relationship ending, etc.) that I didn’t tell her (and she had no way of knowing). Then she mentioned things that I’ve been pondering professionally (according to her will be successful!) and house hunting struggles (soon to end!). And the cards indicate my love life will be very full of love, happiness and…… well I’ll keep some of that to myself so I can see how it plays out.


I know that I am still the person in charge of my present and future, however, it’s nice to have someone say that I’m on the right path. The overall message was to be open and ready for the many positive things that will happen in the new year. I walked out feeling hopeful and excited about my future.


Whether or not you ‘believe’ in tarot cards and all that, the point is that I liked the message of being open and ready. I am an admitted planner, so often like to plan things. I make lists, schedule things in advance and probably overthink too much. I worry about other people’s feelings, which often time slips into my plans and sometimes even alters what I do in my life (I’ve realized there is a threshold of being too nice). I’ve been learning that I can still focus on my life while being kind, helpful and supportive to others.


What I’ve really learned in my 40+ years on earth is that not every year, not every moment, will be perfect joy. Not every situation ends in joy. And that’s okay (although it doesn’t always feel okay). We sometimes need those less than stellar moments to guide us into a new version of life and our self. Remember that you’ll make it. Despite sadness, confusion and frustration, there is always hope. That’s at least what I hold onto. There are new chapters to write, new adventures to experience, new people to meet and new moments to heal and fill the heart.


So that’s what I am bringing into the new year. I’m walking into it with my arms open, ready to live life with laughter, smiles, an open heart and…hope. Lots and lots of hope.


I usually like to set specific goals for myself each year (shocking from the planner!). This year I want to focus on more simple, yet motivating goals for myself.


Find what fills your heart with happiness.

Happiness. The quote below from the Dalai Lama is so true. You can’t rely on others to create happiness for you. I believe that life is what you make of it. I don’t always like what happens in life – I didn’t like getting cancer, didn’t like my dad being diagnosed and dying from cancer, didn’t like having a failed marriage, didn’t like the sadness and challenges affecting my family and friends. But through each of these, we all had to pick ourselves up, dust off and move forward. Hopefully with support from others, yet mostly it’s your own decision on how you move forward. With your head high and hope in your heart? I admit that earlier in the year, I was ready to accept that this year would be blah and slow moving as I transitioned. But it really wasn’t. There have been so many times that my heart felt so full of love and happiness that I thought it might burst. Or I’d start crying tears of joy and relief (yes, that happened once or twice). When I recently commented to a friend that I’m touched at the love and joy in my life, she said she wouldn’t expect it any other way because I’m so open to being happy and sharing love that it’s natural those type of people would gravitate to me too. It’s an interesting thought and one I’ll accept because I love and appreciate all of you who bring your own sense of love and joy. Part of creating your own happiness is keeping the ‘right’ people in your life, the ones who reciprocate the time and energy needed to keep a relationship/friendship moving forward, the ones who bring their own joy and happiness so they don’t suck yours away. Simply put, I love being happy and am going to focus on bringing so much more of that to my life, and others, in the new year.

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” ~ Dalai Lama


Love. I admit it, I’m a romantic. Not ‘I need a bunch of gifts’ romantic type, but ‘kindness, affection, sweet gestures, remembering things I shared, exploring and creating new memories together’ romantic. Real true love is unselfish, kind and joyous. It makes you feel vulnerable, yet won’t hurt you. It makes you smile at the simplest gestures and words because you know it’s genuine. It’s crazy fun, and simple, relaxing moments together. It’s long talks about life, and quiet compatibility. I have not given up on love. I’ve definitely learned some lessons and my mind is aware. Yet, my heart is open. And while I am opening my heart and arms to romantic love, I’m also wrapping my arms around love in general. Love of family and friends, love of simple things and actions, love of life. As my tarot cards suggested, I’m open and ready to accept love in all forms.

“Love is when he gives you a piece of your soul that you never knew was missing.” ~ Torquato Tasso

“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.” ~ Winnie the Pooh


So many places to explore!

Adventures. I feel like 2017 is a new adventure waiting for me to explore. So I want to be more spontaneous and open to new opportunities. I love traveling. I love to not just travel but explore new places, meet local people and learn new things about locations, cultures and more. Having adventures isn’t just about traveling to new locales, it’s about being open to people, activities, foods, drinks, opportunities and more! But no worries if you haven’t been bitten by the travel bug, adventures are also about stepping out of your comfort zone. Join a social group (check out meetup.com for tons of options in your area), try an activity, learn a language. There’s so much to do and see in the world around us. I don’t plan to sit on my couch while time moves by me. Do you?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” ~ Helen Keller


Health. I’m always slightly obsessed with my health. I guess cancer does that. This is different though. I want to be even healthier and more focused. I want to feel energized and simply feel good as many moments as I can. So what does that mean? I want my body to feel as strong and confident as it did before bone cancer. Okay, I realize that I was 21 when I was diagnosed so feeling 21 in my 40s is probably wishful thinking….my point is that I felt confident and completely sure of myself. I trusted my body. Cancer raised a distrust and then a dip in confidence from the titanium rod in my femur/tibia. I hesitate to try activities because I’m worried I might hurt myself. I don’t plan to throw all caution to the wind in the new year, because I sure as heck won’t jeopardize my leg, but I want to feel confidence when I try new activities or push myself in a current. For instance, I want to bike a few hundred miles on my new road bike and feel confident that I can do it. So I’ll be setting some goals to get healthier and stronger (and maybe reward myself with a cute new outfit).


“If today were the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do today?” ~ Steve Jobs


Hello, you!

Me. It’s always a little odd for me to say I’m going to focus on…me. It kind of feels a little self-centered or selfish, yet what I realized this year is that you sometimes need to be selfish in your ‘me’ time. And it’s not truly being selfish. If you’re not happy and well, then you can’t truly help others. This past year was the first in a long time that I truly stood up for myself, making difficult decisions, having honest conversations and focusing on what I needed. It was at times unnerving and challenging; it was also liberating and stress-relieving. In the end, these were actions that I needed to take so I can live the life that I want and should. I learned how to be an advocate for myself, recognizing that if I can’t stand up for myself, how can I truly help others? I had a very real moment this past spring when I was in my Washington, DC hotel room after cancer advocacy training, networking, and dinner and drinks with new friends – as I mentally reviewed the previous two days of fun, accomplishment and laughter, I suddenly fell back onto the bed, smiling ear to ear and thought, “welcome back, my friend.” Because in that moment, I realized my heart felt so very full and light, laughter bubbled out and I remembered what it felt like to be me. And I had missed just being me. So going forward I’m going to just be me. Because, honestly, who else should I be?


“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” ~ Walt Disney


A dear person in my life told me to make 2017 the best year ever. It is some solid advice that I can grab onto and run with. Ready to join me?


“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien


May the sun set on this year and rise high in the new year!


Why charm bracelets capture my attention January 20, 2015

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 2:19 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

charmbraceletI’m a sucker for sentimental, romance, and anything that invokes positive emotions and memories. That may be why charm bracelets have always had an appeal to me. There are so many styles of bracelets and thousands of charms available. Each charm can hold a special meaning to the wearer, and even the purchaser if it’s a gift.


One of my favorite bracelets was given to me by my two older nieces. The bracelet is more than 10 years old so they were little girls when I received it. The original charms they gave me were my initial H, “Aunt,” and a horse. Over time, I received several more charms from them and other family members. It’s a pretty bracelet, but it’s special because I still recall how excited they were when I opened the gift, how they had to point out each charm and why it was perfect for me. I still wear this bracelet, especially when I need a bit of luck and love surrounding me.


PandorabraceletMy husband once again spoiled me with the purchase of a Pandora bracelet a few months ago as a present for opening my Etsy store, Be Happy Designs. We chose the first charms together – a horse for my love of the animal, a horseshoe for good luck and a beautiful silver flower with a blue sapphire representing my birthday and our anniversary month. For Christmas, my brother-in-law added a pretty charm with a blue butterfly (these always signify new life to me). I love these charms as they each mean something special to me. Pandora makes lots of other pretty charms that I know will add memories to my bracelet over time.


Alex and Ani’s bangles are very popular now. I originally discovered this company because I wanted the Alpha Chi Omega bracelet to represent the sorority that brought me many fabulous girlfriends, fun times and happy memories. I’m still an active part of the local alumnae chapter so this present from my mom definitely is special.


banglebraceletsI used to think I had to wait for others to buy me charms for birthdays or Christmas but then realized that was silly. Why wait when there are some cool charms?! I recently discovered Alex and Ani made a bracelet for the Kentucky Derby so I had to have it – love that it’s now part of my collection!


I love wearing my charm bracelets and love when people ask me about each charm because every one has a story or memory it invokes. And I love seeing others’ bracelets. You can definitely learn facts about others by simply asking about their charms. Maybe that’s why I like this jewelry so much – another opportunity to engage with others in a happy way. And in today’s world, that’s always a positive thing!


Do you have a charm bracelet? What is your favorite charm and why?



Play time with the little ones October 9, 2013

Filed under: Life Lessons,Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 3:32 pm
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The kids & I love exploring the world outside.

The kids & I love exploring the world outside.

It’s no secret that I’m the proud aunt of four nieces and a nephew, ranging in ages from 2 years to 17 years old. I love being an active part of their lives. Watching them grow warms my heart and I can’t explain the love I feel for them. When people ask me if I have children, I never say no but answer, “Four nieces and a nephew.”


Having such a diverse age range means we try a variety of activities. Thankfully all five adore each other, and the two older girls are always happy to play with the younger ones (who love spending time with them!). I recently babysat the younger three (A is 6, B is 5 and C is 2; yes, their names do start with A, B & C!) – we packed so much into the evening, I’m not sure who was more tired! There was no argument about bed time! My cheeks hurt from laughing so much. I always try to play toys or come up with fun activities to do when I’m watching the kids so thought I’d share some of our favorite ideas:


Read books: I am a reading fanatic so any time I get an opportunity to share a book with the kids, I take advantage. My sister takes the younger ones to the library often so we either read those or from the vast collection on their bedroom bookshelf. A is becoming a great reader so lately I encourage her to take a turn.


Dance: Music is a big part of my family’s life, which translates down to the kids. They love to sing and dance. Sometimes we just turn the radio or iPod on to get into the groove; other times we play Wii Dance Party, Disney Dance Party or Michael Jackson Dance. I love watching the intense concentration on the little ones’ faces while they learn the dance moves, and then the burst of pride when they realize they’re following perfectly! We have tons of fun while promoting an active, “keep the feet” moving lifestyle!

It's easy to find cool items for craft projects!

It’s easy to find cool items for craft projects!

Art projects: We color, cut, paint and sparkle a lot. With the leaves changing to fall colors, I love taking the kids outside to explore nature and collect leaves, acorns, twigs and other natural items.  Then we grab some construction paper, glue sticks and markers to make fun pictures.


T-ball in the backyard: America’s pastime can be modified for the younger citizens. So we make bases from the trees or dog toys in the yard, take turns batting and standing in outfield. Even little C is on our team (although she likes to hit and then chase her own ball, which makes the older two roll their eyes a lot!). It’s pure chaos mixed with lots of laughs.


Be silly and fun: I always encourage the kids to be imaginative. So yes, the stuffed dog ‘barks’ and the Little People princesses ‘talk’ to each other. We ‘taste’ the tea made by C and cover our ears when B’s fire engine sirens go off. There are moments when the kids look at me like I’m a little crazy but then their little giggles come and their creativity takes over.


The most important activity we always do? Laugh, laugh, laugh! It would be easy to turn on the television or grab the iPad, but those aren’t my personal go-to items for anything. I love talking, laughing and playing with them. I know these are memories that I will remember and cherish forever, moments to look back on as they grow into adulthood. I can only hope they’ll remember and cherish too.


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