Heather's Hangout

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

I know Jack, you should too November 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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This jersey always motivates me to bike!

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

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

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

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

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Imerman Angels offers cancer support November 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Galloping into the giving season November 1, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons,Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 9:00 am
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Visiting Horses’ Haven is inspiring.

As the year begins to wind down (where did time go?), it’s an important time for nonprofits that work year round to make a difference in our lives. From fighting diseases to protecting nature and animals to helping people with food and shelter, thousands of charities rely heavily on the generosity and kindness of others.

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I hope you’re considering a year-end, tax-deductible donation to a charity, if you haven’t already donated. I’ve written much about various charities over the years, those that touch my heart and I personally donate to and volunteer for as I support their mission, programs and services. Since November and December are big months for charitable giving, I wanted to provide an overview of some of my favorite charities. To be frank, there are so many that I could probably write posts every week all year!

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I’ll kick off November with the lovable animal charity, Horses’ Haven. Horses Haven is a local organization that rescues horses, donkeys and other animals who are abused, neglected, unwanted, aged or whose owners can no longer afford to keep them.

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Horses have ranked, along with dogs, as my favorite animal since I can remember. I think “horse” was one of the first words I spoke as a child. After years of begging my parents, they finally let me take riding lessons when I was 9 years old. I still remember dancing around the house singing “I’m so excited” by the Pointer Sisters.

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For the next 13 years, I lived and breathed horses. My first trainer spotted my talent for handling horses and riding so invited me to work at the barn every Saturday for a few hours to earn riding time. I rode hunter/jumpers, having no fear of riding a horse jumping 3’-5’ fences or riding the high-energy, mischievous horses. I switched barns when I was 15 to ride with a trainer who pushed me a bit more. I never owned my own horse, however, always had requests to ride others’ horses for lessons and at horse shows.

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When I went to college, I couldn’t get home often enough to ride at my regular bar so found a farm that bred and trained Quarter Horses near the university. I offered to work around the barn in exchange for riding opportunities. The owner happily accepted so I spent the next four years learning much about training horses. I loved spring time when the new colts and fillies would run around the pastures. Nothing brought a smile to my face faster. When I was 21, near the end of my senior year, I got a job exercising racehorses for a local trainer. It was at this farm that I finally stopped ignoring the growing pain in my left knee. I went to a walk-in clinic near school and discovered my bone cancer.

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Such a handsome boy.

It changed everything. As scared as I was with the cancer diagnosis, I was devastated at the idea of not riding again. Since my knee and femur were to be replaced with titanium, I could very much jeopardize my leg if I fell off a horse. Despite that fear, I decided to try riding for pleasure after I finished chemo. I didn’t have the previous carefree attitude, however, I was thrilled to be back in the saddle. I unfortunately had to soon replace my titanium rod again after a fall at work and my surgeon said I would have to decide – continue to ride and risk losing my leg in a fall from a horse or stop riding.

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It wasn’t much of a choice of course. I was blessed and grateful to still have my leg. But I took giving up horses very hard. I became a little bitter and angry toward cancer, and hated those feelings. I cut my favorite animals from my life – sold my tack, took down pictures, gave away books and movies. I thought it was easier. For so many years of my life, horses were my escape from school, peer pressure, work and life in general. I relaxed the moment I crossed into the barn. I could stand in a stall with a horse, run my fingers through his mane, rest my cheek against his shoulder and enjoy minutes of peaceful quiet. I lived for these moments. And cancer took it away.

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About 10 years ago I decided to get those feelings back. I found Horses Haven. I attended one of their farm tours and felt an odd pull like I had come home. Horses Haven began in 1995 and is completely volunteer run – no paid staff at all. That fact still amazes me when you consider how much time and energy goes into feeding, watering, cleaning stalls/pastures, taking care of many animals who often have health issues, and just ensuring these well-deserving animals feel love. Dedicated volunteers work in shifts throughout the day, every day, to keep the farm running and the animals taken care of.

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Horses have been my passion since childhood.

I often wanted to volunteer to help at the barn, however, the farm isn’t very close to my home and my schedule fairly full so I decided to sponsor a horse – basically my monthly financial support helped take care of him.  I sponsored Shecky, a gorgeous chestnut Thoroughbred, for many years. He was neglected when Horses Haven first rescued him years ago, then adopted by a great family. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep him so he returned to Horses Haven. He had bad knees at that point so couldn’t be ridden. I thought we were a perfect pair with my rod that prevented me from riding. He enjoyed a relaxing life with his pasture mates until he died (of old age) two years ago. I loved visiting him, and all the other horses. They each have special stories, of overcoming the odds. Some from neglect and abuse, others from kind owners who could no longer support them.

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There are many ways to support Horses’ Haven – volunteer regularly, on their farm work days or special events, sponsor a horse as I did, donate to the general fund, provide items from the wish list. Some of the horses are available for adoption as companion animals or for riding.

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This volunteer organization makes a wonderful impact on the lives of the animals they support and provide shelter and love to. Donate today.

 

The challenge of writing about the LIVESTRONG Challenge October 20, 2016

hh_livestrongwalkI’m not sure how to write this blog. For one thing, I’m feeling a bit jet-lagged. The other is that my heart is so full and my mind keeps replaying so many memories from my recent trip to Austin that I don’t where to start. So if I babble through this, bear with me.

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I spent five recent days in Austin, Texas celebrating life, friends, survivorship and positive change. I spent these days supporting the LIVESTRONG Foundation‘s 20th anniversary of the LIVESTRONG Challenge event. I am a better person for doing so.

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It’s been several years since I visited Austin. My first trips to Austin were, ironically, related to LIVESTRONG. Back then it was known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation but the goal of supporting people touched by cancer was the same. I was very involved with Camp Mak-A-Dream in Montana and the foundation provided assistance in helping us start a young adult survivors conference (to this day, it’s one of the efforts I’m most proud of). So it felt a bit ‘full circle’ to return to Austin for another LIVESTRONG purpose.

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My regular readers might remember that I represented LIVESTRONG at the One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) lobby day and I’ve written about their support services for cancer survivors and caregivers in the past. As part of my commitment to the organization, I thought it would be good to check out a fundraising/team event so I could better speak on the various events offered. And, admittedly, I eagerly jumped at the chance to meet up with some friends who also were attending the Austin event. We all know I’m not one to turn down a chance to travel!

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hh_livestrong_signsSo a group of us headed to Austin. And it was not a disappointment (although I don’t know that any trip I’ve ever been on has been a disappointment because I believe in making the most of any situation, especially an opportunity to travel. But I digress….remember the jet lag). There were so many opportunities throughout the trip to connect with people I had met in the past, and meet lots of new people. I love that we all have at least one thing in common – our dedication to help LIVESTRONG support people touched by cancer.

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The day of the Challenge event was….early. And steamy (seriously, Texas, 90 degrees and humid in October? My hair was so not prepared for that weather.). But the day was full of so much energy. And once again, everyone in attendance had something immediately in common – fighting cancer. Most of you have probably been to a charity walk or event. There is something powerfully inspiring and motivating to be part of an event with a common cause. Of course, as a cancer survivor and someone who lost her dad to cancer, these cancer-related events are deeply personal. I have attended and planned numerous cancer charity events, and I always take some time to step aside from the crowd and absorb the impact. I see the joy, sadness, hope and dedication on faces. I hear the stories. I watch the determination. I am inspired and touched. I leave every one of these events with a full heart and renewed commitment to being a cancer advocate. This LIVESTRONG Challenge was no different. Thousands of people came together to walk, run, bike or observe, as a team to raise funds for a cancer institute that will have great impact on thousands fighting this crazy disease. There is significant positive power in that movement.

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livestrong_dadsign2I felt so much gratitude as I added my name to the survivor card. Some days I feel like a different person than that 21-year-old young woman diagnosed with bone cancer, as if I could sit beside her on the hospital bed, wrap her in a hug and promise brighter days. Then there are the days that I vividly feel every ache and emotion. There was also a moment when I wrote my dad’s name on the “In memory of” card that I was certain he’d be there if I turned around. Maybe more wishful thinking, or desperate longing, but I still am sure he was there, cheering and supporting me and everyone else there that day. I like to think that he proudly walked beside me on the route.

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I am grateful to be able to participate in these events. As a cancer survivor, I know how blessed I am to have every minute of every day, alive and enjoying people and places. Therefore, while I walk and speak and try my best to make a difference because of my survivorship, I mostly do these things for him. And others who do not get to walk, speak or live.

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And the people. I don’t even know where to begin with these people who come from near and far to support LIVESTRONG – from seeing current friends to making new. I must have hugged hundreds of people, including strangers. I shared and listened to so many stories. I sat on a bench after the walk with tears in my eyes as a woman told of losing her husband to cancer, the love of her life, and promised her that I wouldn’t ignore special moments, opportunities or people. I hugged a man who completed treatment last month, then was swept in a bear hug by him after I shared that I was done with treatment too. So many times this trip, I laughed until my cheeks and stomach hurt. I embraced connections that I didn’t know could exist so strongly. I was reminded numerous times of how beautiful life is, and the impact our positive actions can make on so many people. I felt like I was home, surrounded by love, inspiration, motivation and kindness. So much kindness.

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This is LIVESTRONG to me. People thank me for being involved and helping others, but I always feel like I should be saying thank you for the opportunity to be involved, to help others and do good. After all, I can. I’m alive.

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If you or someone you know is going through cancer, visit LIVESTRONG’s website for some valuable information, navigation services and more. If you’d like to help make a difference, check out LIVESTRONG’s advocacy efforts. Donate to support their services or join Team LIVESTRONG. You’ll make a difference. I promise.

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Year-end donations help charities provide important programs December 28, 2014

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 3:39 pm
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My parents raised my sisters and me to appreciate what we have and understand how fortunate we were to have a nice home, soft beds, clothes, access to good education, full stomachs and people who loved us. Thanks to their direction, I’m a firm believer that if you’re able to, you should give back to those less fortunate and your community. And, frankly, we’re all able to in some way, whether through time or money. I love to volunteer at local organizations, especially those that touched my life. Cancer organizations are an obvious choice; however, I also love to help at our church, schools, and any animal-related organization. My husband and I plan to spend more of our time volunteering in the community in the new year.

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We also feel great gratitude that we both have good paying jobs that allow us to save money each paycheck. With that in mind, we donate financially to local charities throughout the year. There are so many charities to consider. I listed a few that I’m involved with or are familiar with. Now is a perfect time to donate money as you’re still able to get a tax-donation for 2014!

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CampCaseytrailer_frontCamp Casey – I know I’ve shared information on this great organization a few times this year. Camp Casey provides a horseback riding experience to children with cancer and sickle-cell anemia through several different programs. The most popular, and my favorite, are Horsey House Calls, which bring a horse to the home of a child, whether in the suburbs, city or country. We provide rides, pizza, crafts and great fun! This nonprofit is run very efficiently.

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Imerman Angels – I love the mission of this organization that connects a cancer survivor (mentor angel) with someone in treatment or recently completed with treatment. I remember going through treatment and wishing to meet a young adult bone cancer survivor to give me advice and support.

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Wounded Warriors Project – This organization serves to honor and support our veterans and service members who were injured during their service to our country. Several programs are offered at no charge to these ‘warriors’ and their families, focusing on mind, body, financial and engagement.

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Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial – My husband and I walk by the sign for this future memorial quite often as it’s near our home. It will serve as Michigan’s official tribute to our state’s contributions during this war. I think it will be amazing to have such a special place to visit close to home once it’s built. The planners are accepting donations to help with the construction and maintenance – you can make a general donation or purchase a brick to honor someone.

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dino_1Cranbrook Institute of Science, Greenfield Village and other cultural institutions – You may think that admission fees cover the costs of maintaining and operating these amazing cultural institutions that showcase history, art, education and science, but there are still gaps in finances. Particularly for special programs, such as exhibits, research, and educational opportunities.

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Horses Haven – This volunteer-run organization provides a home for neglected or forgotten horses and donkeys. While they try to adopt out as many horses as possible, many are permanent residents at the farm. Raising horses isn’t cheap so all donations help support these amazing, sweet animals. You can also sponsor a horse for a low monthly fee, which includes visits with your new friend.

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What charities do you support?

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Don’t forget to make your financial donation by Dec. 31 to get the tax benefits…..so many people and animals will benefit from your generosity.

 

 
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