If Im being completely honest...
I have a lot to say. This week has been tough and I am not sure that I have made it completely clear or obvious just how hard it has been on me - for many reasons. The circles that go around in my head are pretty overwhelming and confusing at times. It's a battle. A battle of guilt for not being positive all the time, a battle of put a smile on your face and pretend everything is ok because I don't want anyone feeling bad for me, and then a battle of these horrible dark thoughts that I have convinced myself are probably pretty normal.
I don't like to acknowledge or admit or even say it out loud that metastatic breast cancer is essentially a terminal diagnosis. Im 38. How the hell did I get diagnosed with a diagnosis that has no cure? Lucky me. I don't know if getting these thoughts out of my head will make them go away. I feel like there is this little apartment in my brain that is cluttered with junk. While everyone else is busy decluttering their closets, this is my attempt to declutter my brain. Its also my attempt to be honest because I cannot imagine I am the only person with this diagnosis that feels this way. Before you continue reading, I am going to warn you that this may not be an easy read. Specifically for those that are very close to me, but I am going to preface this with letting you know this isn't going to be the butterflies and rainbows of blog posts.
So here goes - and my plan is to just filter through these thoughts as they come out so please excuse the randomness that might ensue.
I am scared. I’ve mentioned that before but I’m really freaking scared. I am scared that if my current treatment isn't working, that I will be left with options of clinical trials which really just makes me a statistical lab rat followed by endless dr appts, scans, bloodwork, etc. Fact of the matter is, I am already there. Im a human pin cushion - to the point that I now have to count to 10, 3 times a week, and inject myself with a shot in my stomach to boost my white blood cells (WBC). Currently my treatments are on Mondays and each Monday we sit there, with this super conflicting uncomfortable feeling of..."Well, I hope I can get chemo today". Meanwhile, the majority of the world is just hoping they can survive their usual case of the Mondays after the weekend. I mean, who HOPES they can get chemo and feel like shit for 5 days after? Apparently....my husband and I do...because if I can't - then what? Then the cancer grows?
I can’t do much of anything I used to do before. My BFF was in town this weekend and while it was awesome to just chill and watch TV, talk, decorate cookies, and hang out...at one point I wanted the old me to jump off the couch, bust out some old school 90's, and in Jen fashion...moon walk, Roger rabbit, running man, and display my best attempt at possibly twerking. Because if you know me well...you know thats a "Jen thing" to do. My back pain, on top of my WBC shots, on top of my chemo side effects...just don't let me do that. Last night I went to bed...I couldn't sleep knowing I had to take my best friend to the airport in the morning. The ugly thoughts wouldn't stop. When I dropped her off, I said what I had been thinking about all night and what kept me up until 3AM. I didn’t want to say it but I did. "I hope this isn't the last time I see you". I wondered if she felt the same but in true Heather, always optimistic fashion, she replied with “you will”. We cried and hugged - and neither of us wanted to let go. I’m not sure I’ve ever hugged my best friend of almost 20 years that long and hard. We looked at each other, attempted to laugh at ourselves for crying, hugged again...and that was it. I love you bestie, and even though I struggle to accept that maybe our crazy shenanigans may be limited, we adjusted well by decorating ridiculous llama cookies together. I’m not ashamed to admit - we even named them and I may have discovered a new way of meditating through art.
As far as my family goes...I feel like a complete burden. I feel like everyone is putting their normal life on hold for me. I don't like that. I want normalcy but the fact of the matter is...this isn't normal. Life isn't normal right now and I wonder if it ever will be again. I don't feel like a wife or a mother. I feel like a cancer patient. I cant keep up with simple daily tasks and while my husband has been more than amazing...the roles he has absorbed, that were once mine, are what made me feel like I was a contributing member of my family. Now Im just proud of myself if I can pick up the clothes off the bathroom floor and put them in the hamper. I’m not lazy, I’m just in pain.
I have anxiety. Bad. Who wouldn't in this situation? Anxiety makes me shut down. It makes me quiet. It makes me feel crazy. It spirals in to depression and guilt and all kinds of other sometimes irrational thoughts. At times, I’d be happier if I was just completely alone because then I wouldn't feel like Im such a burden. At times, I just want to be left alone in my own thoughts. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to acknowledge it. I want to pretend none of it is even happening. But it is...and thats when I shut down. I am really doing my best this time around to not do that. Losing my ability to work out doesn't help my cause one bit. It was always my escape, my reminder that I was healthy enough to be on my bike, or strong enough to lift weights. I cant do that right now, and Im not sure I'll ever be able to again. That scares me. The thought of not being able to travel and hike, or walk up a mountain, or sit on an airplane for an extended period of time...it all scares me.
What scares me and hurts me the most is something I really don't even want to say but if Im being completely honest here...Im gonna say it. I want my husband to be happy and live a life that is fulfilling and full of love and I want to be that person to him forever. Id be lying if I didn't say it kills me that there's a chance I may not be. Of course I would want him to move on...but he's MY MAN. He's MY HUSBAND and I love him more than anything. I love his (our) kids more than anything. I want to see them graduate and be a grandma. I want to grow old with him, and travel with him, and be the one who loves him the way we were meant to love each other till death do us part. The reality in my head is that till death do us part...could come much sooner than either of us ever imagined it would.
I don't want to question every time someone comes to visit me if it's the last time I will see them. I don't want to wonder if my niece and nephew are going to remember who their aunt is. I don't want my parents to have to worry or even think about losing their daughter to cancer. I don't want to hope that I can get chemo on Mondays. I don't want to wonder if I will ever have hair again. I don't want to wonder if the headache Im waking up with is a tumor growing on my brain.
I want to live my life the way I had been living it since I completed treatment for my first diagnosis. I want to be the mother and wife I was 6 months ago. I want to continue to help other women who are probably feeling much like I do right now and my plan is to do that forever. I want to surf again. I want to sit on a beach with flamingos. I want to dance. I just want to be Jen again. I live a very blessed life - the life I always dreamt of. No matter what happens...I need to find grace, patience, and most of all...I need to find gratitude in the life that I have lived and am living. I’m not dead, and no one has told me I am. I’m just limited and it’s frustrating.
I don't want you to feel bad for me. I really don't. That is not the purpose in this post. To be frank...this post was for me. This post is filled with the hope that I could get this out of my head and maybe move on from it a bit. Maybe a little bit of this post was filled with the hope that as you're reading it - you might just close your eyes, take a deep breath, scan your body from head to toe, be grateful for your health, don't sweat the small stuff, and acknowledge all of the blessings that surround you. That's what I want from you right now. Just do that...that is what would make me happy today.
Shaving my head...again
I know you see me smiling but behind that smile, I am scared. I am not sure anyone realizes how scared I actually am and Im not even sure I really want anyone to know.
Shaving my head for the 2nd time in my life was no easier than it was 5 years ago. The army you see standing behind me is one hell of a freaking army and I know, this time, I am not alone in this battle. Im surrounded by fellow survivors and fighters, my family, my friends, but most importantly Im surrounded by LOVE. I have so much love for every single person in this photo and I was blessed to have them all by my side.
To be honest, I am not even sure any of this has really settled with me. It's the biggest challenge I have had in writing my blog again. I feel like writing about it again just makes it more real. I want to get this out of my head but I also don't want people to feel sorry for me or as if I am complaining but this fucking sucks. WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?????????? WHY? WHY? WHY?
I asked myself that same question 5 years ago and my answer became more clear a couple of years later when I started my non-profit. We've helped so many women and I finally found my purpose in life. Here I am asking that question again. I don't get it. I did everything I could. I ate healthy, I worked out, I stopped drinking alcohol almost completely outside of the occasional glass of champagne or 2. But here I am again...bald. Chemotherapy took my hair again. For a moment, I will forget and then I'll scratch my head only to come back with a handful of stubbles. I'll catch myself in the mirror and it takes me back to a place I was 5 years ago. A place that I am trying very hard not to go to.
Im doing my best to stay positive. It's a weird feeling...I am 3 treatments in and even though I was feeling like complete crap - I had hair. No one knew I was sick. Now...I look sick. Now...Im the girl that has cancer....again. Im the girl when you see me walking in Target you look at and probably feel bad for me. I don't want to be THAT girl. But I also don't want to be the girl that hides this time around. Even as I am typing this, I looked up and caught my reflection in the mirror and its just unbelievable. I know and hope that I will find a new purpose behind this again. I want to believe that its God's way of giving me the true understanding of every single aspect of cancer so I can relate to all of these women we help. The truth is, I am so mad at God right now. I know he knows this. I lack in prayer because I am mad. As I type that I am crying because it just makes me feel guilty - for many reasons. I hate admitting it but I am trying to pray for understanding through this. I have to find that in my own time and on my own terms though. I know that only he knows my heart, and only he knows the purpose behind this new pain.
On September 5th, 2018 I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer with liver and bone mets. I have multiple tumors on my spine and other bones and 5 spots on my liver. I will be in treatment for the rest of my life. That is reality. I am bald again. That is reality. I don't know if I will ever have hair again. There I said it.
Cancer won't ever win though. Because of it, I am surrounded by more love and support than I could ever have imagined. Though tears might fall, and fear might consume me at times, I am not alone this time. I am one lucky girl to be surrounded by all of these amazing people, by ALL of you.
We are THE DANGEROUS ONES, NYCFW
4 years ago when Dana, of Ana Ono Intimates, contacted me asking me to write a blog about her bra line, I never imagined one day it would manifest itself on a runway in New York City Fashion Week. My blog has been my outlet to be honest and truthful about every challenge I have experienced since the day I was diagnosed, all while sharing useful tips and tricks for how to get through cancer treatments. Whether I was on a high, or a low, or sharing a bra that made me feel beautiful again, I have always felt the importance in expressing the complete rawness of what it has been like to endure a cancer diagnosis at a young age. Most who know me well, know I wear my heart on my sleeve, I am honest, and I am extremely shy when put in vulnerable situations.
There were lots of highs and few lows through out my weekend in New York. Mainly highs - like highs so high it didnt even feel like real life. I am looking back and realizing that the lows were my anxieties putting a block up. It was my shyness, it was backing myself in to a corner because I was scared or nervous - something I do that most people don’t really understand about me. I have been blessed with incredible, life changing opportunities that have continued to alter my outlook on life. I am constantly reevaluating the person that I am and doing my best to accept I am not the Jen I was before cancer. There are these parts of me that are still very much there - like that introverted girl that I have realized is sort of a hidden gem because its raw and its me being real - and then there are moments like this weekend where I surprise myself.
These are the moments in life, these amazing, unforgettable moments that I wont ever take for grant it. Each one of those moments, I take something away, and I learn something about myself. Sometimes, that old Jen comes out and its refreshing to know that I am still in there somewhere. Most of us who experience a cancer diagnosis go through a grieving process of those 5 challenging steps. There’s denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Denial - did I really just have cancer? Did I really just lose my hair, and my breasts, and WHO AM I NOW? Anger - Why did that just happen to me? What did I do to deserve the hell I just had to go through - am I doomed? Bargaining…if I do this, I will change that. If I eat better, if I pray, if I work out, if I do all these things for others, then surely my cancer wont come back (obviously not the case). Depression. Yah Ive been there a lot. Depression (and anxiety) involves all of those previous thoughts swirling through my head on a daily basis. Sometimes I can take control of them, and others I cant. Sometimes, I lose friends and I have survivors guilt or I wonder when will that be me? My fears are a battle that I have deep conversations with every single day.
And then there is “Acceptance”. Acceptance that we endured a traumatic event in life and how can we move forward living the best life possible. Acceptance that we are discovering who we are on daily basis, acceptance in who that person is, acceptance in being CONFIDENT in the person we are discovering, and acceptance that we have to embrace every single day, and every single moment as if it were our last. We have to find acceptance that our bodies are forever changed and then embrace that change. Most importantly, we accept that we were given a platform to change the way that others see beauty, the way others see confidence, and the way others have stereotyped breast cancer as the “easy” or “pretty” cancer. Acceptance that we are the dangerous ones, the ones who speak up, the ones who advocate for those who can no longer.
I assure you there is nothing “pretty” about any sort of cancer. Breast cancer is not a “boob job”. Breast cancer is not “curable”. Breast cancer is not “easy” and it is certainly not “pretty”. I was asked what this fashion show meant to me and why was it different from the rest of New York Fashion Week. Ive sat on that question since it was asked. What is beauty anyways? Is it the 5’10 model walking down the runway in that expensive designer outfit? To some, yes. Is it the 5’6 woman who has been through hell and back, parts of her body amputated, scars left behind, who can still walk down that runway with confidence? Thats where I see true beauty. Each and every woman who walked down that run way with me has looked at ourselves in the mirror completely stripped of everything…our hair, our eyebrows, our eyelashes, and our breasts. We have had tubes hanging out of us at some point, multiple IV’s, multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, weight gain, weight loss, depression, anxiety, fear, loss. Unfortunately, we have lost too many friends who are not here to share that story…and so we walked in confidence for them all.
What does beauty mean to you? For me, it means standing in a room with women who are REAL with one another, who are HONEST with one another, who INSPIRE one another, who ENCOURAGE one another, who make a DIFFERENCE in the world, who stand in CONFIDENCE with one another, and who ADVOCATE on behalf of the our friends who are no longer here. We all took this opportunity to tell our stories and to make an impact - to change the way the world sees breast cancer. THAT is beauty. There is no judgement in true beauty. There is no comparison or jealousy in true beauty. True beauty is standing up for what you believe in and speaking loud for the entire world to hear. Beauty is seeing past the anger, past the depression, past the anxiety, past the emotional and physical battle wounds, and standing on a stage with a fierce confidence and a genuine appreciation for every single step we were blessed to take on that runway. Each foot forward was one full of acceptance, until we reached the end of the runway. It was our individual opportunity to look at the cameras, to look at the world, tell them our story, showing cancer who's in control with no words...just our eyes and our actions. We accepted our beauty, we owned our beauty, we owned our scars, we owned our cancer, and we ACCEPTED that our past is what has brought us to the present moment. We embraced this as our platform to show the world what TRUE BEAUTY is, what CONFIDENCE really looks like, and what breast cancer REALLY is. Its scars, its pain, its sadness, its loss, its fear, and its women living in strength as ONE, beyond all of that. Breast cancer is not "pretty in pink".
As you read this, please take time to educate yourself on the facts of metastatic breast cancer because the scary facts are this…1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and of those 8….1 in 3 of them will go on to be metastatic. There is NO cure. Donate to METativor, the sole US organization dedicated to awarding annual stage 4 breast cancer research, which is beyond important. Join in the conversation with #Cancerland, who provides a platform to address breast cancer’s often ignored realities. Follow them on social media and do your part to change the conversations about breast cancer. Ask questions, be curious, make a difference, help us do more to save more lives because at the end of the day, we want to end the assumptions and create a conversation based on reality.
Project Cancerland and Ana Ono Intimates provided us with an opportunity to show, not only the world, but ourselves, the reality of cancer. I assure you, this runway was filled with the most beautiful women in NYC - physical beauty, internal beauty, raw beauty, a genuine beauty you are unlikely to find on any other runway in the world. That was not the most important message though. The most important message was the women who were not here to walk that stage with us. The emotional honor we all took with us down the runway as we walked for them was an honor we did not take lightly. The message is in the truth behind breast cancer. The 1 in 8, the thousands of women dying EACH DAY from breast cancer, and the lack of funds that go towards those with metastatic breast cancer. The mission was to show the world the faces behind this deadly disease, to bring awareness to those who may not understand the truth behind breast cancer. It is not the beautiful cancer, it is not the easy cancer. It is a deadly cancer, and WE ARE ONE, WE ARE THE ONE IN EIGHT WHO WILL BECOME THE ONE IN THREE, WE ARE THE TRUTH, WE ARE…THE DANGEROUS ONES.
The Miracle of Savannah
The last couple of weeks have no doubt been incredibly emotional for many, including myself. As difficult as it has been to watch this beautiful girl be taken so soon… I think we can all agree through all of this we have watched miracles unfold. The range of emotions have been overwhelming but watching all those who came together to show a young woman just how loved she is…is the collateral beauty in all of this. To witness these blessings from God…these miracles…
The miracles in these final days are the memories we hold on to. And though the miracle of healing in Savannah may not happen here on earth…Savannah’s healing will happen in the hand of God. That is the true miracle in all of this. But the miracle here on earth…is the joy Savannah has brought to so many. The miracle of Savannah is something she created through a wish, and through a love of jeeps she shares with her father. The miracle of Savannah is what brought people from all walks of life, jeep owners, motorcycle groups, government officials, neighbors, friends, strangers, people from ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, ALL OVER THE WORLD…came together through the miracle of Savannah. If there is anything I am going to take from any of this…if I am going to hold on to hope…its going to be in the miracles I have witnessed this last week. The miracles that which God brought to Savannah. Each and every person….you are a blessing to Savannah’s life whether you are praying from afar, driving your jeep past her house, sending pictures of your jeeps and signs, decorating her house with lights, or sending her cards. You all made a girl’s final days so incredibly special. But…Savannah…Savannah created a miracle! One that we all had the privilege of witnessing through her wishes, and through her joys. Savannah brought an entire universe together and through a wish, she will now arrive in God’s hands full of all of that love she received here on earth.
I am confident we all learned something from Savannah. We learned what strength looks like. We learned patience. Some of us may have even fallen to our knees for the first time in a long time…to pray. We learned forgiveness. We learned to appreciate every single moment we are blessed with. We learned to hug our loved ones a little harder. We learned how to love a little deeper. We learned how to love thy neighbor in its deepest meaning. We learned to love a stranger, to embrace a stranger, to comfort a stranger. Some of us have even made new friends. These are the miracles of Savannah. I hope she now knows she is never alone. I know she feels the joy in each and every miracle that unfolded this last week. I hope when she is watching down from the heavens…I hope she can smile knowing this was all her. That an entire world came together to show their love and support for such a sweet angel. I hope she realizes the impact that she left here on earth. The stamp that she left on so many hearts. Though many tears will fall when she arrives in the hands of God, the collateral beauty is in what Savannah has taught us. The collateral beauty is in the message that Savannah has spread across the entire world and the awareness she has brought to pediatric cancer. The collateral beauty is that we have seen what the world truly looks like through a child’s eyes in the simple joys that she wanted in her final days. Savannah’s legacy…is the collateral beauty behind all of those tears.
Savannah, sweet girl, we will always remember these moments with you. You have united a community...no...you have united the entire world! You are NEVER alone. We will always be blessed, honored, and humbled to have walked this journey with you. You, my dear, is what the miracle of God is all about. I hope you now know you were never alone. I hope when you are watching down from the heavens…I hope you can smile knowing this was all you. That an entire world came together to show YOU their love and support for such a sweet angel. I hope you realize the impact that you left here on earth, the stamp that you left on so many hearts, and legacy that will live on for years and years to come. Your spirit, your heart, your smile, the simple joys….The Miracle of Savannah will live in our hearts, YOU, our beautiful angel, will live in our hearts forever.
Jen Reynolds, Co-Founder, Pink Warrior Angels
In the last few weeks, these have all really hit me hard. Sometimes you think you are ok and then out of no where you are quickly reminded this is the reality you live in. You realize its not something that will ever go away and that in itself can be enough to send you spiraling. I wanted to write this blog for those that may not understand it. Maybe you have a loved one who suffers from PTSD, Anxiety, or Depression. While I don’t expect this post make sense of it for you…that I feel is impossible if you’ve never experienced it…I do hope that you can find patience and a little bit of understanding as to how frustrating any one of these can be.
PTSD…As you know is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. About 80% of women suffer from PTSD Symptoms after a breast cancer diagnosis. 80%!!!! NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT!!!! Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can be brought on by a traumatic event. PTSD can happen after a life-threatening situation, such as a breast cancer diagnosis or cancer recurrence. PTSD can affect your ability to cope with life’s daily chores and inconveniences and make it difficult to function.
So what is PTSD like for me? I, personally, have triggers. My triggers vary and unfortunately, I have many of them. Discovering a new pain, hearing of a recurrence or death from a breast cancer diagnosis, certain smells, locations, and times of year are all a few of my triggers. This is what happens. Lets go with smell. About 1 year after my diagnosis, it was fall. Halloween to be exact, and I put a sweater on that I hadn’t worn since chemo. At the time, I had just started therapy for my PTSD so I was new to that feeling. We used to wash our clothes with this Febreeze scented Tide. So I put this sweater on and it immediately took me back. I started thinking about everything I had been through. Sitting in the chemo room, the beeps from the different chemo machines going off, the one time I had a bad reaction to the chemo, the weight loss, the fatigue, the stomach issues I had, the loss of my hair. I put that sweater on and I had cancer all over again. It all came back and I was drowning myself in a sea of thoughts. It was like I was being pulled in to an undertow. I didn’t have cancer but in that moment, I had to convince myself of that. I left the sweater on for about 10 minutes because I was really trying to be stronger than my PTSD. I didn’t want it to control me but it did…and the sweater came off. I was upset and in a matter of a minute I went from excited to give candy out and scare kids to I am going to die of cancer. I went through a conversation in my head and even spoke some thoughts out loud. That I was here, I was ok. I was healthy. I touched my head to remind myself my hair was growing back. I had to consciously bring myself back to the present moment and not the moments from a year ago. Without the previous therapy I had been through, I am not sure I would have been equipped with those tools to talk myself out of it. I did though. The whole episode lasted about 30 minutes and our night went on as planned.
PTSD and Anxiety are a very similar feeling to me. It’s basically a flood of emotions that for a period of time become uncontrollable. For me, they go hand in hand. My PTSD causes a heightened sense of awareness to everything around me and the result of that is anxieties about what COULD happen in the future. Anxiety is horrible. To any normal person my thoughts, that swarm like bees in my head, are a bunch of irrational thoughts that make absolutely no sense. Anything can happen and in an anxiety attack….it WILL happen until it doesn’t actually happen and your past it. That waiting period, or the period of time that goes by that your convincing yourself that your thoughts are irrational, can feel like an eternity. Not only are you sitting in these crazy irrational thoughts, that you KNOW deep down make no sense what so ever, you are doing it alone in your mind. The last thing I want to do is try and walk someone through those thoughts, only to sound like some crazy lunatic that just predicted the future in full accuracy. Reality is, none of us know the future. My reality…is not so, though I have done better lately accepting that this life is not in my hands. It is accepting that I do not have control over what is going to happen. The worst part of anxiety is knowing what you are thinking is completely insane and makes absolutely no sense…but not being able to just think that and move on from it in that moment. Typically what happens is the thoughts get worse before they get better. I have found that, for me, I will end up at the most irrational thought possible and thats when I realize…okay Jen…THATS not going happen….THATS impossible. And IF it does…whats the worst that would happen? What IS the worst that could happen? Even if the worst that could happen is death…I would know I am leaving this world confident that I lived it to the fullest, was a good person, and did all I could to help others.
This leads me in to depression. I hate depression. I hate it with everything I have and though I do a pretty good job at managing it, I am frequently reminded that it exists in me. Depression is kind of scary because if you can’t figure out a way to manage it, it can and will affect all aspects of your life. It WILL steal your joy. It WILL send you to some pretty dark places. There was a very short moment in my life where I felt like it would have been easier if I died of cancer vs. dealing with all of this shit. I absolutely HATE to admit that but it is me being honest about what depression is. Its a lot of why me’s and why am I here and whats the point. I haven’t had those thoughts in a really long time and for that I am really thankful. My depression causes me to disconnect from everyone. I don’t talk, I hide away, I don’t really eat, and the best place for me when I WAS depressed, was alone. The last thing I wanted to do was bring anyone else down with me or react to others in anger as a result of my sadness. It is sort of a weird place to be because you don’t WANT to be alone…but its easier. You want someone to come hug you and just let you cry with no words, but you don’t want anyone to see you like that or have to explain yourself. Its just a really odd feeling of confusion and not really knowing what it is you need in that moment. Thought I still have my moments, I am thankful that I have learned how to manage this aspect of my mental hurricane, and not to let myself stay there.
With all of this being said, I am not going to leave this blog with the idea that I am in some dark scary place with made up stories and fears and anxieties. I manage it well and without medication. At times, I do wonder if medication would help balance me completely. I chose the gym and a healthy diet, supportive friends and family, my non-profit that brings me SO much joy in helping others, and I know how important routine is for me. If my routine is thrown off…it can cause me to slip. Fortunately, when I do slip, I am able to pull myself out much quicker than I was able to in the past. It took a lot of work to get where I am right now. I still have those fears, I still experience all of these feelings, but I refuse to sit there. In a conversation with my therapist, she asked with a sort of sarcastic smile on her face…”So how’s that going for you, how is everything else in your life going”. The answer was “Really shitty”. It was that moment that she made me realize I was allowing all of these irrational thoughts and fears…things I had no control over….affect every single day of my life, and everyone around me, in a very negative way. Nothing was good. That wasn’t ok with me. We all want to be happy. Though I know perfection will never be an option, I want to have the best life I can while I am here. I cannot allow those “what ifs” to take away the joys and happiness that exist in the current moment. So I make plans, I have learned to laugh again, that its okay to feel happiness even if it is all taken away from me tomorrow…because none of us have control over what is going to happen in the next minute of our lives. I still have a lot of work to do on myself, but guess what? WE ALL DO!!! This life will never be easy…but I am very fortunate to be surrounded by some of the most AMAZING people. That list goes on….from the women I meet daily, to my family, my husband, my step kids, my 4 besties, my trainer, to everyone who has encouraged and supported me along this journey - I am so incredibly thankful for your understanding and for letting me be me when Im being….ME.
The photo above is of me, in Ireland. It was a bucket list trip for me and I never thought I would have had the courage to get on a plane to fly there...let alone sit on the edge of cliff smiling. This was me...facing my fears. Something I probably never would have done for myself - had cancer never happened.
Everyone has fears. Whether we would like to admit it or not - we are all scared of something. Fear of failure, fear of heights, fear of flying…maybe your fearful of admitting you are fearful because its a sign of weakness. Fear is a normal feeling. It has so many different aspects to it and we all deal with it in our own ways. Some face their fears head on and others run away from it. Some people choose to face their fears. Some of us are literally forced to face fears.
For me, I have always had normal fears…flying, heights, and oddly enough - tornadoes. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the commonality between all of those fears. Death. I am afraid of dying. While most people might agree that yah…death is pretty scary. Cancer changed that fear. Where at one time…it was just a thought that I could rationalize in my head…Cancer made it real. For example: The odds that I will die in a tornado - highly unlikely….falling off a roof…unlikely….flying…unlikely. Im scared of those things…but I do them because ultimately I know its going to be ok. Cancer was not a choice. It wasn’t necessarily a fear that I thought about regularly. While I always sort of had this thought that it would suck to ever have cancer, in my mind - it was never going to happen to ME. Up until the moment I sat in front of that doctor on Nov 7, 2013…until the moment he said “you have breast cancer” and even for a few minutes after….It wasn’t going to happen to me.
In that moment…my bubble had burst.
I say that often but its not well understood. That thought - that bubble that I lived in - the one of “that would never happen to me” it’s gone. I no longer live with the naiveness of that could never happen to me. For me, one of the worst things that could have happened, happened to me. So it opens up this window in your mind…that you are not immune. You are not invisible. It CAN happen. ANYTHING, at ANY moment, CAN happen to you. While I don’t want to create an unnecessary fear in those that haven’t experienced a life threatening illness or traumatic event in their lives, I do want to be honest about the fear that is created within a traumatic life event.
Fear: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Cancer - a disease that causes suffering and sometimes death…happened to me. It causes pain, it was a threat to my life. It was no longer a “belief”. It was a reality. What has happened as a result of that reality has been daily fears of things that are seemingly nothing to most “normal” people. Headaches are not a normal thing for me anymore. Its cancer…Im gonna die. Cramps in my stomach - ovarian cancer (I am high risk for this), pain in my back - cancer. I will obsessively feel lymph nodes in my body and set myself in to a panic. I am no longer rationalizing why its ok to fly, or climb a ladder, or get caught in a bad storm in my car…I am now rationalizing normal pains that everyone experiences on a daily basis due to a life threatening illness that did, in fact, happen to me.
For me, fear has amplified all of my feelings. I have a heightened sense of awareness to everything around me and everything in me. Its almost like I am constantly being chased by something. Most recently…I was stung by a wasp. For 2 days I tried to rationalize the fact that it was okay my finger was practically blowing up beyond the capacity of my skin…I kept thinking its fine because I didn’t want to be dramatic about it. I then ended up in urgicare at 2AM for putting it off…with a dr telling me how impressive the swelling was in my finger…and leaving me with the idea that if it didn’t improve in 24 hours, I would have to go to the hospital because the circulation in my finger might be cut off. NO! Just NO! I don’t want to hear worst case scenarios. Worst case scenarios are worst case realities to me. I absolutely HATE thinking this way. It is a constant battle within myself. I do not want to live with this fear for the rest of my life. Not of wasps - of horrible things happening to me. (For the record - I am now afraid of wasps - HA!) Sadly fear is a daily thought that I have to rationalize. It is usually done with me reminding myself that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow and I am not going to find out I have cancer today so enjoy the day, live in the moment, and do what makes you feel happy. Put your trust in God…believe that he has a plan for you. Believe that that plan is going to lead to something greater than yourself. Pray. Pray your fears away because we are not in control.
I cannot tell you not to be afraid of this awful disease and the realities of what it has done to us. I cannot tell you to not worry about the pains you feel on a daily basis. What I am going to tell you - is that you absolutely have to live your life. One thing I learned about myself in therapy, that I wasn’t ever going to be okay with, was that fear was taking away my ability to enjoy anything in life. That wasn’t acceptable to me. I was letting my anxieties, my fears, CANCER…I was letting CANCER steal my joy. At times, I slip and I allow it to still happen. Sometimes for days. Sometimes the people around me have no clue, sometimes I make it very obvious. Sometimes pretending its all okay is overwhelming in itself. Unless you know me REALLY well…you would never know that I sit with these fears daily.
While I would love to know what it feels like to still live in that “bubble”, that is not my reality anymore. My fears have taught me to be patient with myself. I have now allowed those minor fears of flying, and heights…motivate me to do things I wouldn’t have done pre-cancer - like sit on a cliff in Ireland. In the last 2 years I have experienced some of the most amazing moments. Fear…and cancer…have given me a new perspective on life and what’s truly important. I faced a life threatening disease that did its best to destroy me…but I am still standing. My appreciation for life, my desire to find simple joys in every day, the amazing people I have met on this journey, the life experiences I have had since my diagnosis…have all left me feeling so incredibly lucky and fortunate to just simply have today. I want to leave you with this thought. If you are going to allow yourself to feel fear or sadness, you owe it to yourself to allow yourself to feel happiness and joy as well.
“Holding us in place is simply fear….of whats already changed” Sara Bareilles
Embracing a feeling
Im partially writing this in tears and typing as fast as I can to document this feeling I have.
I have spent the last month raising money for our gala. I had these goals in my head and I wondered if I was setting myself up for failure with such high goals. It scared me because I don’t want to let anyone down. I honestly did not realize how much I would learn about myself in the process. As I sit here right now, for the first time in a really long, I feel good and I feel really proud of myself.
I speak to women all the time, I visit them during their chemo treatments, I make pillows and drain bags for them, I offer my advice, I do the best I can to make someone else’s journey a little easier. In my mind, if I can save them from making a mistake I made, or helping them cope with a side effect they might have, or just simply being there for them in a way that I did not really have…then it brings me a sense of joy.
That sense of joy and happiness that I feel never really registered until this last week. On Friday, I had intentions of visiting a couple girls in the chemo room and ended up meeting 4 other young survivors randomly. I have been told more than once how incredible it is what I am doing. I guess I just never really saw it that way. I guess I just looked at it as something I needed to do and something that I was meant to do. I really don’t know what else I should be doing - as if this is just what my current purpose is. I am honored on so many levels that these women welcome me in to their journey and they find trust in me to carry them through their journeys as best I can. I know I can’t help everyone and I can’t do everything, and I have learned thats ok.
Im emotional because of all the times I have been thanked, or given hugs, or have been told I am a gift from God to someones journey…A gift from God??? All of those amazing compliments I received, it never really hit me until now. I am not sure how to explain it because it is just who I am. Who I have pretty much always been. I was raised to give more than I receive so it has always just been embedded in my blood. I am confidently no longer asking why did this happen to me. I feel blessed to have found purpose in all of this. It is an interesting feeling because there are days that I struggle and I am so angry at how cancer has changed me. But when I am able to to sit away from myself for a minute…and I am able to acknowledge everything that I am doing because of cancer touching my life. It all starts to just simply make sense in some crazy way.
God has made his presence and I have seen his hand at work so much through out this process. From the people he has placed in my life, the stories that have been shared, the opportunities that have been placed in front of me…none of this is by coincidence and it really just makes me feel (deep breath)…….safe.
I never expect anything in return for what I do but the support Pink Warrior Angels has received is so far beyond any feeling I could ever put in to words. I guess it is a feeling of validation…knowing people believe in our mission and trust in what we are doing for those currently battling this horrible disease. As much as I would love to save the world and never have to watch someone struggle through this battle, I know that will never be a realistic goal. The fact of the matter, is that breast cancer is fearfully becoming more and more common, especially in younger women. It comes as a complete blow to your life. Some of us face infertility, have our careers taken away from us, have children we have to explain a disease to, and various other challenges. It’s sad, it breaks my heart, and for the most part, I cannot believe that I have had to face all of those challenges. I believe it is why I have been able to relate on so many various levels to other women.
There is clearly a lack of attention and support to how much breast cancer affects the lives of everyone involved from warriors to co-survivors and everyone in between. I am so incredibly proud of where Pink Warrior Angels is headed. Putting together this gala has really showed me that anything is possible as long as you put your heart, your soul, your passion and your determination in to it. This Gala and Pink Warrior Angels, is all of that to me. April 8th is going to be an incredible evening. It will be emotional, it will be a celebration, It will be a night filled with honor to all of those affected by breast cancer.
For the first time in a really long time, I feel proud. Not just proud of myself but proud of New Braunfels and San Antonio for rallying behind Pink Warrior Angels. I feel proud of the relationships I have made through out this process and making friends who have embraced our mission, shared their ideas, and have set off on their own missions in the process. Friends who I feel I have known for a lifetime but really its only been 2 weeks. I am lucky to know them. I am lucky to be surrounded by so much support…and though this post may not seem as though I am speechless….there are no perfect words for the love I feel from each and every one of you. Thank you all for reminding me and showing me there is a world and a life full of so much good.
You are a SURVIVOR!!!
Its been awhile since I have written. I was feeling very stuck in a rut for a while. Nothing was moving along, I was taking steps backwards rather than forward, yet I felt like I was doing everything possible to move on with my life. I was actually feeling the worst I have felt since treatment. My body was aching, my head wasn’t in the right place, and my PTSD and anxiety were on point. It was like the perfect storm of everything all at once. I just didn’t feel like writing and honestly didn’t want to drown everyone in my continuous posts about my PTSD. I will let you know I am doing much better though. Thanks to clear scans, lots of natural supplements, my acupuncturist, my chiropractor, and the gym...my head is in the right place now.
My summer was crazy but in the midst of my travels that I am beyond thankful for, myself and a fellow survivor Julie started a non-profit called Pink Warrior Angels. I am going to save the introduction of Pink Warrior Angels and what our mission is for another post - promised not to be months from now. This post is coming with a purpose and one that I feel is pretty important.
Last week, I attended an event for a local breast cancer survivor battling stage 4. Her life has been quite the journey. After losing her husband, she was left a widow/mother to 2 boys. She was then diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Last week, we held a benefit for her and I was given the amazing honor of helping to plan special little moments for the event. A moment from this night stood out to me and it hasn’t left my mind since.
I presented a little scrapbook for her filled with bald photos, stories of survivors, and words of encouragement from each woman. When I gave her the book - she opened it and above her photo - it read “Survivor”. She immediately noticed it and said “Well I am not a survivor yet”. As much as my heart broke in that moment for her, I had to gather myself together to let her know that she IS A SURVIVOR.
Everyones interpretation of when you become a survivor is different, I understand that. But this is my blog, and while I welcome your thoughts and opinions…I want to share my very strong opinion with you regarding this topic. For those that question or are waiting for that day to call yourself a “survivor”….this is for you.
If you are reading this….YOU ARE A SURVIVOR! You are ALIVE!!! You might very well have cancer, but you are not dying of cancer and do not let yourself believe that you are. You are surviving cancer. You are fighting and at times it may feel like you are losing but you are ALIVE. Believe that are going to beat this, that you are going to win, and that you will, in fact, survive this challenge in your life. In my opinion, you became a cancer survivor the day you were diagnosed. No one told you were going to die that day. You lived to the next day didn’t you? You have lived this long haven’t you? Whether its a week, 3 months, or 10 years - you are still very much alive if you are reading this blog.
Here is your proof….
Definition of a survivor:
: to remain alive : to continue to live
: to continue to exist
: a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.
I did not make that up. That is in the dictionary and according to Mr. Webster - YOU ARE A SURVIVOR.
I have been cancer free since April 1, 2014 but I have been a survivor since November 7, 2013. No one ever diagnosed me with cancer and told me I was dead. I know that might sound blunt….but its true and I have to imagine its true for you too regardless of your stage. I truly believe that cancer teaches us to truly live our lives to their fullest. I believe it instills an appreciation inside of us- one that most people will never understand. To be perfectly honest with you, I believe the day we are diagnosed with cancer, is the day we truly started to live. Yes that day was scary…but once that initial shock was over…life started to mean so much more. Life is a privilege and most people don’t understand that. We have learned to cherish the littlest of moments in our lives…ones that most people take for grant it. The moments with our kids, the moments we travel, the moments of a simple nap, the seasons changing, and something so simple as the rain falling on your hands. To me, THAT is living. YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!!!! YOU ARE A FIGHTER!!!! We all are!!! We have been handed this super shitty card in life….but we are all living out whatever days we have left with more appreciation and hope and strength than we ever did before. We are the ones that are truly living, the ones that are truly SURVIVING. If I have to thank cancer for one thing…it is for teaching me how to live a full life.
To my friend,
This is for you. Believe that this life has incredible things in store for you going forward. Your smile through the pain inspires me more than you could ever possibly know. I will never pretend to fully understand all of your pain but I do understand the cancer side of it. I understand the fears. I understand what its like to hide behind the pain and to put on that smile for everyone to see. And that smile of yours….its beautiful. You are beautiful. You are a beautiful woman, a beautiful mother, and you have a beautiful soul. You have a purpose. Don’t ever stop believing in yourself and what that purpose is. A friend of mine sent this to me during my treatment…”Put your hand over your heart. Feel that? Thats called purpose. You are here for a reason….dont give up”. Survive. Keep on surviving because that's exactly what you are - a survivor, a fighter, a warrior. Your spirit is very much alive and I see it when you speak. By all means, cry. Scream. Throw your pillows at the wall and ask WHY?!?!?! But I know one thing….you're not giving up and I know you won't ever give up. I hope you always know I am here if you ever need someone to bitch to who can relate to this super shitty cancer BS. Though our paths have only randomly crossed - know that you are a part of my heart now. We share something in common, my beautiful warrior. We are SURVIVORS!!! You, my beautiful warrior, are very much a SURVIVOR.
I'm going to leave you with this song. The words couldn't be more perfect. I am blessed and honored to have crossed paths with you. Your inspiration, your smile, your courage, your determination, your strength to show up at a benefit the day of treatment....you are incredible and I don't think you realize just how many lives you have touched. Mine included.
This time 2 years ago, I was on a beach with my family. We took a random weekend vacation to enjoy the end of Texas summer. It was a great trip and of course we took tons of pictures. I had no idea at the time, that trip would be my last trip feeling like a normal person. Though I have a favorite picture from that trip, I have a love hate relationship with it. It is one of the hardest photos for me to look at. It is a reminder to me of who I once was. It is a reminder to me of a time when happiness was a simple luxury. It is a reminder to me of a time when I was in great shape and training for my very first 5K. When I took those photos, I had no idea what was right around the corner.
There is only one reason why I appreciate this month and it is because it is meant to bring awareness to the very thing that tried to kill me, breast cancer. It is a reminder to many women to get their mammograms and if you talk to most doctors, they will tell you October is one of the most diagnosed months of the year. That part of it is great. For that reason, I appreciate this month. I, personally, found my lump on a total fluke in October. I was not searching for a lump because it was breast cancer awareness month. It just happened that way.
October 27, I found my lump and this brings me to the title of this blog. October to me is a reminder of the pure hell that I was about to endure. I see breast cancer everywhere I turn. PINK PINK PINK. I actually used to really like the color pink. I don't necessarily hate it now but what I hate is that pink is actually a pretty color - and breast cancer is the ugliest most horrible thing there is. Aside from talking about colors...lets not forget about the cheerleaders prancing around wearing those cute little pink outfits with their "TATA'S" hanging out to supposedly bring awareness to breast cancer. What exactly about your perfect boobs, perfect long hair, and perfect body brings awareness to such a disease? Because here is the reality of breast cancer....
At 33, I shaved my head bald and 2 years later still only have neck length hair - not long beautiful locks. I had my breasts removed. I have no nipples. I have a 3 inch scar that runs across each breast. I have back pain from the surgery. I can't do push ups anymore without looking like frankenstein, not to mention it is probably the most uncomfortable feeling in the world. I can't feel a damn thing anywhere in my chest. In fact, I can't even feel my armpits anymore. I have somehow found humor in the fact that I can't feel my armpit hair growing anymore. I have scar tissue build up, which can be very painful. I have ripples around my implants because essentially - I have an implant and skin and nothing else. I fear cancer every day of my life. While I have really come to terms with this new body of mine - it is definitely not one I planned on having EVER in my life. I would have been thankful for my 60 year old possibly saggy boobs. A mastectomy is NOT a boob job. If I wanted a boob job, I would have paid the $6K to get one...not the $75,000 it cost me to have my boobs, my lymph nodes, and muscles cut and hacked through. Do not get me wrong, my plastic surgeon did an incredible job with putting me back together...but it was not something I ever wanted.
I am writing this blog because this is a real issue. Most of you have never seen a picture of what a women looks like after a mastectomy and while I do not have it in me to post photos of mine...there are women who are more than willing to share that with the world. So when you see those cute little cheerleaders dancing all over the place wearing their cute little pink knee high socks...remember what its really about and what the majority of us really had to go through.
This month I will participate in several events that I feel are most important to me. I will be participating in a fashion show put on by Fabooblicious. Last year, this was by far my favorite event to participate in. There is no other energy that compares to the energy, love and positivity, that you are surrounded by when your in a room full of cancer survivors. To put it simply...it is UNREAL and I am honored to be a part of it again this year.
This weekend I have chosen to participate in the Dallas Cowboys half time show to honor breast cancer survivors, the fighters, and the angels who watch over us. I have chosen to participate because it is an amazing opportunity to bring awareness and to show the world that the face of breast cancer is no longer 50 and up. Its 15 and up. The age of diagnosis is getting younger and younger. I hope instead of feasting your eye on those beautiful cheerleaders, that you will really focus on the women this has affected. Their families, their friends, and us. Notice the tears you might see in our eyes while we remember the struggles we went through and still might be going through. Notice that despite what we have been through, or the hair that we no longer have, or the boobs that might no longer be there....that we still have the ability to put a smile on our face and simply appreciate the gift of another day.
While I love to be a part of these events that bring awareness to breast cancer...there is one particular event that brings so much happiness to my heart and that is BRA day. BRA day is breast reconstruction awareness day. What I love so much about this event is that it gives women the opportunity to physically see the different options they have with regards to their reconstruction. If you know me well, you know I have a huge heart. Helping other women, is honestly, what has really kept me going. When I am given that opportunity...there is no better honor than that. For this event I will model my type of surgery for PRMA (my plastic surgeon). While it can be a very vulnerable time...I know it is helping other women to not feel so incredibly scared about what lies ahead and that there is hope for feeling physically normal after their surgery.
And last but not least is the 5K we are putting together for Pink Warrior Angels (our non-profit). It is our first of many, and I am so excited for where PWA is going and how quickly we are growing. The best part about Pink Warrior Angels...is that it truly does bring everything together for me. Everything I have ever wanted to do. It gives other women the opportunity to do those things as well. Pink Warrior Angels opens up the door for women to help other women, for us to all support one another through our own struggles and I can promise you one day...no one who is diagnosed with breast cancer will ever have to fight alone. It is just not acceptable and I am so proud to partner with Julie on this amazing journey. Big things are coming for us and it is so special and dear to my heart.
October is not about perfect boobs and pink ribbons. It is about encouraging your mother, your sister, your daughter, or your wife to get a mammogram, to be proactive in their health, and to get a second opinion when needed. It is a time to remember that this disease is a very REAL issue. Sadly we are all beginning to know someone who is diagnosed with breast cancer. I hope by reading this blog, you might know how to support them a little better. I hope you will encourage them to reach out for support. Remission has an after life...and its not an easy one. I feel very fortunate that, for some of you, I can put a real face to what breast cancer actually is. While I hate the fact that it was a part of my life...I feel blessed in the many opportunities that I have been given to bring awareness and comfort others.
The difference a week can make
I was a little hesitant to post this but I really want you to see the difference a week can make. I went on my first descents trip with the hope in mind that it would pull me out of my slump. I started a journal - just for my eyes - prior to me leaving. I really wanted to be honest in what I was feeling, where my head was at, and what my fears were. I was curious to see how that would change as the days went on through out my trip. Close to a week after my return, I posted how I was feeling and what my first descents family did for me. I am going to share both of those with you. Before I do that, it was really hard for me to go back and reread what I wrote before I left. I almost couldn't even comprehend that I was in such a bad place. It made me sad that thats how I had been spending my time, daily. So then I went back and read my journal entry post trip - and it lit me up to know that I had made that much progress in just one week. I am not going to say much of anything else other than this. First Descents is an amazing organization. What they have done for me and so many others is something I could never be thankful enough for. If you are not aware of first descents, please check out their website and read their story. www.firstdescents.org
So here goes...I am really putting myself out there by allowing you in to my personal journal and in to my very raw and real emotions with this one.
Thursday May 14, 2015
I am 2 days out from my FD trip. I feel like I have been waiting for this trip for so long and now that its here, I am scared and nervous. The shy side of me is nervous to be with 15 people I don’t know for the next week. The scared and fearful side of me is afraid of the flight, as always. I am excited to learn how to surf. I am worried that I won’t have the energy or strength to keep up but I will try my best. I wanted to document my current state of mind before this trip.
While I would love to come back from this trip a new person, I don’t want to put expectations on it. I am hopeful, which I guess could fall within the same category as expectations. Maybe not but here is where my head is at right now.
I wake up every day scared. I wake up every day convinced that I have cancer somewhere in my body and then I go through this entire process of telling myself that I don’t. Its overwhelming and consumes me. It strips me of having any happy thoughts. In fact, I don’t know that happy thoughts even come across my mind anymore. I have struggled to even convince myself that I deserve happiness at this point. Why did cancer happen to me? Why can’t I go back when I didn’t think about death every day. DEATH! I think about dying every single day of my life. That just isn’t right. No one deserves to live the way I have lived my life since the day of my diagnosis. I have no joy. I am not happy about anything. I am sad most of the time and it effects my marriage, my friendships, and most of all ME. I have struggled to admit that I am depressed. I don’t know why. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with being depressed. I just don’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to live this way any more either.
I have tried therapy, reike, acupuncture, working out, and a few other things. Everything seems temporary. I think this is the one time in my life that I just simply dont have the answers. I don’t know what I can do to make this better and I am starting to believe there is nothing I can do. This is just my life now. Sadness, living in fear, and feeling stressed out all the time. Again, no one should live this way. Laughing is a chore. It almost feels impossible and fake to squeeze a smile out. Its sad. I know it effects my ability to be a good wife and a good stepmom. Its just awful. I want to enjoy my life the way I used to. I want to learn how to accept the new me and accept that yes, life is different now, but it doesn’t have to be filled with misery. I want to get there so bad but I just don’t know how.
So I ask this. God, please give me the strength to release my fears to you. Please take me down a path filled with happiness and joy. Please show me and guide me in a direction that is surrounded by your love and grace. Teach me how to put my faith to you at all times. To release this idea that I have any control over my future so that I may enjoy the current moments of my life. Please make your presence in my daily life. Amen.
Friday May 22, 2015
We all left our awesome bungalow this morning followed by lots of tears and see ya laters. 15 cancer survivors who all shared one common bond with one another. The emotions we all experienced this week were nothing short of amazing. The more I talk to everyone - the more normal I start to feel but I fear going home and no longer feeling that sense of normalcy. The conversations flowed from the minute we got in to the car until the minute we got out of the car and departed to our homes.
I know we all shared tons of compliments for one another. Uplifting each others souls and unintentionally pointing out the amazing qualities to each other - that we ourselves may have forgotten existed. Those qualities we knew deep down that we possessed but ones that got lost in the translation of cancer. Every conversation was pure and genuine.
On the way back to the airport we were talking about cancer again. We talked a little bit more in detail about our specific cancers and started to talk about our friends back home and how our relationships are different. It isn’t just friendships though, its all relationships. You can express your feelings, your depression, your fears, and your hopes until you are blue in the face to someone who has never had cancer. You get a lot of responses of people who just feel bad and don’t really know what to say. So as we were sitting in the car talking…I stopped in mid sentence because there was a lot of huh huhs, and noises of agreement to what we were saying. I realized something…When we are having a bad day and we start to vent or talk about whatever it is we are talking about….we aren’t necessarily looking for answers. We are just looking for validation - and that validation coming from someone who actually REALLY understands….means so much more.
So now that I have been home for a few days…I finally had a chance to sit down and really process this amazing trip and what it has done for me.
What I took away from my week is intangible. I am not even sure there are words to explain the magic that happened on the beach, in that house, and at campfire everyday. Though I am speaking for myself, I am confident this feeling is mutual. For one week, we all had the opportunity to be our authentic selves. We all let walls down with each other that I am sure we have a hard time doing at home where we can sometimes feel “alone”. I am confident we all shared laughs like we haven't experienced in a long time. We each had our moments with one another where we would open up and cry - and most times those moments ended in laughter. We shared an energy that was so positive and encouraging to one another. It is something that cannot be put in to words. From the cheers that came from shore to those deep conversations that always ended in a smile and a hug. Yes, we all share one very unfortunate life event with one another…cancer…but if not for that life event we wouldn't have found each other. I am so thankful for each and every one of my fdgnarbars friends. You all know more about me than people I have been friends with for 20 years and theres something to be said for that considering we only had a week to get to know each other. I love you all like family. I miss you all more than words could explain but I have come home with a new outlook on life. Each and every one of you taught me something different about myself and I will take that with me each day I move forward in my journey. I am not alone anymore. I was - for a long time - but not anymore. I have first descents to thank for that. For one week, I was able to be 100% authentic. I was able to silly Jen again - the Jen I thought was gone because of cancer. Before I went on this trip - I was confident I was going through a grieving process. One that was centered around the loss of…me, and who I was pre-cancer. But she’s still there. That girl still exists and you all showed me that. I was able to laugh till my belly hurt - a feeling I haven’t felt since Nov 7, 2013. Though it makes me sad that I am not entirely sure when I will see you again…You are all in my heart and my mind forever. I will never forget the moments I shared with each of you and the inside jokes or the dubsmashes. Thank you for letting me be me and for laughing with me. My hope for us all is that we will continue to live the life we all deserve to live. My hope is that we can all find happiness in this life - and find the joy in each and every day. My hope is that none of us will ever feel alone ever again. From this day on - we have each other. #FDGNARBARS FOR LIFE BABY!!!!
I deserve joy and I will find it in every single day. I deserve happiness and I will remind myself of this daily. Right now, I am happy. Sadly, I forgot what that felt like. I have slept better in the last week than I have in 2 years. I went above and beyond what I expected of myself on this trip and it was a pleasant reminder that I am strong both physically and mentally. I have a new motivation every morning when I wake up and I now know I am 100% capable of pushing myself beyond my own personal limits. And last but not least…I will allow myself to be vulnerable. Thank you FD for restoring my hope, my energy, and my mind.