I hope you dance

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately.

I don’t have too many local girlfriends I can call up and say “Hey, let’s go out.” I have family nearby, neighbors, and some friends I’ve made through my current and previous employers. I’m not friend-less, by any means. We just all have lives and responsibilities and schedules, and it isn’t always easy to get together without proper planning.

Yesterday I was thinking about a particular friend and how I might reach out to her and see if she wants to go to dinner or lunch to catch up, then I remembered how the last few times I reached out to her, she left me hanging. I decided that I didn’t really want to do that again. Relationships take work from both people, you know? My time is just as valuable as anyone else’s time. It got me thinking of a few other friends who I’ve had similar experiences with recently.

I can appreciate that people have loaded schedules, lord knows I do most of the time. Juggling patients, graduate school, a thesis, internship, doctors’ appointments, coaching, and writing doesn’t leave much time for personal and family time, let alone a social life and leisure. I do what I can to try not to leave people hanging, but I’m sure I have a time or two.

Isn’t it just weird and a little sad to think about how time passes and people who were once significant parts of your life, in one way or another, sort of fade away?

It’s been almost a year since our fur-baby Daisy passed away. I was in such a dark place after we lost her; so incredibly sad. I felt like an actual piece of my heart was missing, she’d had that significant a role in my life. I was having a bad day about a month after she passed and wrote about it here. I was venting. Sad, upset, and frustrated with life and all the crap Brad and I had been dealt over the years. I wasn’t sharing for sympathy or anything like that. I was just being real and getting it all off my chest. After that post went live, a friend of mine from high school reached out to say she’d seen my post and was sending me a hug. It was such a nice gesture, something that probably took a minute of her time, and something I will probably remember for the rest of my life.

Gestures like that are priceless.

She and I don’t talk often at all and it’s been years since we’ve seen each other, a couple decades probably. But she saw I was sad and she sent me a hug. How cool is that? Isn’t that what we all should do? Not just comment on someone’s public post, but send them a message to let them know we’re really thinking about them? This friend doesn’t just share posts about mental health checks for friends, she actually does it. #friendshipgoals

Some people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

Author Unknown.

It’s hard coming to grips with the fact that some of the friendships I had in the past — ones I’ve treasured and are part of so many fond memories — may have reached their expiration dates. Our reason or season has ended, and as much as it may stink, I guess it’s okay. Moving on and growing is part of life, right? Constant motion. I’ll probably still see them on Facebook, but our days of personal check-ins have come and gone. Maybe our paths will cross again in the future — I’d like that — but I think it’s healthy to let go and make space for new friendships.

To all my old friends, I hope you dance.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’
Don’t let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

Lee Ann Womack

Aunt Life

I shared in my last post that my family has experienced some loss lately. The most recent was my Aunt Barbara, my dad’s sister. She had breast cancer, not the same as mine, and it eventually spread to other areas of her body. I last saw her when I was in New York for my other aunt’s funeral, but I’ve talked to her on the phone since. I can still hear her voice and her sass. I hope I never forget what she sounds like. I have a lot of my father’s traits, and I’d like to think I have some of my Aunt Barbara’s, too.

I used to spend a lot of time with her when I was little. I went to stay with her and my grandmother occasionally and we’d go shopping, play bingo, and hang around the house. I’d bring my toys or my bike and just play. I remember that I would spend hours using the staircase as some kind of apartment community for my troll dolls or Barbies. We’d also do most major holidays at her house, too, since she lived downstairs from my grandmother. It was a home away from home.

All losses suck, but hers really sucks. She was an awesome aunt and, until my sisters talked about it, I hadn’t really thought about her as a teacher. She taught us how to be aunts. Yes, we have more than one aunt, but she was our constant. Birthdays, holidays, milestones…she was always there. She set an example for how an aunt should be, and while I have absolutely slacked here and there (who doesn’t?), I intend on changing that. I want to be the Aunt Barbara of aunts because she was so good at it – the gold standard, if you will. She may not have been perfect in all ways, but no one is. She loved me and my sisters hard. Years from now I want my nieces and nephews to remember me in the same fond way.

This was something else I’ve been thinking about lately. How important the role of an aunt is in a child’s life. We’re friends and we’re family. We are full of love and tons of fun. We’d do just about anything for our nieces and nephews. The same could be said for uncles, I guess. I can’t wait to watch my nieces and nephews grow up and turn into awesome people, and I’m looking forward to being there and supporting them (or spoiling them, haha) along the way.

Merry Christmas!

Brad and I had a great holiday spent with family. We were spoiled rotten, as usual, and indulged in some delicious food.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting these past few weeks. As we near the end of every year, I think we all spend a little time reflecting. Maybe more so this time around since it’s the end of a decade. What were we doing 10 years ago? What were we doing 20 years ago? How have our lives changed? How are they the same?

I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff lately and I’ve wanted to write about it, but I’ve felt like I needed to organize my thoughts so I’m not bouncing all over the place. I’m still not quite sure my thoughts are organized, but I’m working on it.

I guess my biggest take-away from the last few years has been mortality. I was diagnosed with and survived cancer in 2017-2018. Part of me feels like I’ve been given a second gift of life and I need to take advantage of that. I had a conversation with a fellow cancer survivor recently and he told me that I didn’t owe anyone anything. I believe that, but I do feel like I owe a little something to myself. I feel like I need to take this chance and use it. I need to take care of my mind and my body. I need to live…because that’s what I’m meant to do. I’m meant to live, and I think I’m also meant to do great things. Things I won’t be able to do if I don’t live every day to its fullest potential. How cliché, right?

Anyway, I’m a work in progress with all those things. I’m working on my physical and my emotional health. I’m exercising daily and I have a great fitness and nutrition support group. I also got this fun little book that has me spending a little bit of time each day on myself, it’s called Zen as F*ck. Excuse the language, but it’s so appropriate for my mindset and attitude. I’m also volunteering with the American Cancer Society, and that’s helping me on the “do great things” thing…that and my day-to-day work as an ABA therapist. It’s some of the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done in my life.

2018 and 2019 had some lows that also had me thinking about mortality. We lost three loved ones in 2018 and three in 2019. I’ve heard people say that death comes in threes, and I wish it weren’t true. Four out of the six deaths were cancer related. Two of them were friends who were taken far too soon. I went to two of the four funerals in New York. It’s always bittersweet, because the loss of a loved one sucks, but getting to see my relatives is nice. If only we weren’t always meeting up for a funeral.

So, this is part one of my year-end reflection. A summary of sorts. I’ll be back in the next few days to share more about some of the bigger things I’ve been thinking about.

Seasons Greetings

I’ve wanted to pop in and say hello for a while and kept forgetting. Thank you, chemo, for the short-term memory loss. And, you know, for still being alive and all that. I have so much to update!

I’m still cancer-free. YaY! I’ve been to my oncologist, gynecologist, and my breast surgeon for regular exams and all is well. I’m still going every four weeks for the Lupron shot and taking the Femara. That’s where I’m at with all that.

I’m still volunteering with the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. I’ve decided not to do the golf tournament again this year. I might revisit it next year, but this year I’m volunteering for the event. The local director would like for me to be a community champion and try to recruit some teams and sponsors. I’m excited to give it a whirl. I forget that I worked in a small marketing and development role for quite some time at a previous employer. I’m excited to pull those skills out of my bag and use them again.

On a sad note, we lost another friend to cancer this year. On Halloween, our friend James passed away. He would have been 40 in January, I believe. He left behind a wife and two daughters. He was such an amazing guy, the best kind of friend. It really sucks that he’s gone. Like the sun got a little bit less bright in so many lives. It was actually kind of special that he passed on Halloween because it was his favorite time of year. If he could have picked a time to go, it would have been this time. We’ll miss him every day.

On a happy note, I just submitted my last exam for the Verified Course Sequence for BCBA certification! I still (STILLLLLLLLLL) need to finish my thesis so I can finish my Masters, but that’s okay because I need to finish accumulating my supervised independent field work hours, which will probably take me through March. I need 1500 hours and there’s a lot that comes into play with what’s acceptable for experience hours, so I end up with anywhere from 80-100 hours a month. So I’m hoping to have everything I need completed by the end of the spring semester. Then I’m going to study my butt off over the summer so I can take the certification exam. And fail. Like 900 times. Seriously, I have so much test anxiety.

No travel planned for the immediate future. Our last trip was to West Virginia, Staten Island before that. The drive was absolutely gorgeous, through the mountains. Makes me want to walk the Appalachian Trail. With a weapon, of course. For the creepers.

We went to a hockey game recently. It was Hockey Fights Cancer Night at the Stingrays. We had a really nice time and want to try to make it to some more games this season. They won, too, which made it even better! What else? My entire family was here for Thanksgiving, so that was fun. I always enjoy seeing my nieces and nephew. I’ve started a mug collection…thank you, Marshall’s. It started with one, “Make it Happen.” Then there was, “She believed she could, so she did.” And then there were cats, and Peanuts, and Nightmare Before Christmas, and…you get the picture? At less than $5 a pop, it’s hard to not buy one or two whenever I’m in Marshall’s or TJ Maxx.

Oh! Brad and I did the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in October. We had a nice time at the event. Our friends Chanda and Ms. Beth joined us, which was great.

I feel like I’m forgetting something I wanted to share and as soon as I hit publish, I’m going to curse. I guess that’s all for now. I’ll try to pop in more frequently and share a little bit more about Life After C.

❤ Jen

Anniversaries, Relay For Life, Cancer Sucks, and Maybe More

It was kind of hard to come up with a title for this post…can you tell? Just lots to update on!

May 10th will be one year cancer-free for me! I kind of had that “ah-ha moment” yesterday, where I suddenly realized it’s May and I had my mastectomy in May so it was almost one full year. Pretty cool, I think.

Also, on May 3rd Brad and I celebrated our 11 year anniversary. Congrats to us for putting up with each other this long! Here’s to another 11! Er…here’s to forever! Kidding…I love you, Brad.

The Relay For Life event was April 26. We had a great time. The survivor lap was humbling. Just seeing all those cancer survivors…how crazy. I always knew cancer sucked, but going to an event like that REALLY shows you just how much it sucks. We did not last until midnight, we were SO tired, but we stayed until the luminaries were lit, which was around 10:30. Here are some pics from the event.

The Relay For Life was a Friday night, and that Sunday we went to the hospital to visit our friend Heather who has been fighting a fierce fight with a very aggressive cancer. Unfortunately Heather lost her fight on Tuesday. She left behind a husband and two young kids who are going to miss her so much. We attended her services this passed weekend, and it was beautiful, but completely heartbreaking.

It makes you want to know why, you know? Why did she have to lose the fight? There are two kids out there now without a mommy. Two adorable, sweet 5 and 7 year old kids. A husband without a wife. It sucks. Cancer sucks.

And that’s the reason why I participate in the Relay For Life. I do it for the Heathers, the Matts, the Alyssas and the Lukes. I do it for the parents, sisters, brothers, friends, and other relatives of people fighting cancer. I do it for every single person in that funeral home and the church.

No one should have to attend the funeral of a 32 year old mom who died from cancer.

Cancer Sucks.

Need I say more?

I think I’ve talked about this before, how when you’re diagnosed with cancer, you seem to realize how many people around you have or have had cancer. It’s a horrible, horrible number, which is why I will probably volunteer and raise funds for cancer organizations for the rest of my life. We seriously NEED a world without cancer, and if I can put even the tiniest dent in that goal, I will.

In recent months, I’ve had two friends diagnosed with cancer. In the past year, another one of my friends joined the ranks, and prior to my diagnosis, another friend had started his fight with cancer. These are people who are my age…mid to late 30s. There have been other people I’ve been acquainted with or told about over the last couple years who have been diagnosed, too, varying ages. It’s just crazy how widespread this disease is. It’s crazy and so damn frustrating.

It makes me mad that cancer doesn’t care that these people have friends and family who love them. That they are good people just trying to make it through life and do the best they can. Between the four people I mentioned, there are nine kids who have to watch their parent struggle in one way or another. Two of those friends are in the hospital, one is home recovering from surgery, and the other one is going for radiation this week. I’m sure every single one of them has shouted at the top of their lungs, “Give me a break!!!” I know I did at least once during my fight.

Sometimes when I hear of the struggles others with cancer are going through, I feel guilty. I feel like I got off easy, you know? Deep down, I know that’s not true. I know my body fought hard through chemo and recovery from my bazillion surgeries. I know my body was so weak and I had to rebuild my strength. I know it wasn’t easy when everything was happening, that I looked and felt like shit, but it’s so easy to look back and say, “What I went through wasn’t so bad,” when I see my friends being hospitalized because their bodies are being beaten down by their diseases. When I see them going through it longer than I went through it. My treatment was short. I was never hospitalized. My side effects were always pretty manageable with medications.

My fight is over and I feel great. And sometimes I feel guilty for that, and I think that’s an OK think to feel. I think that’s normal. Survivor’s guilt, in a sense?

Anyway…Barkley is absolutely fantastic and if you have Instagram, you should follow his shenanigans at @sirbarkleyelkins It’s mostly pictures of him sleeping because he’s a pup and that’s what he does, but he’s ADORABLE! And tomorrow he is 7 weeks!

A lot to be thankful for…

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you get stuffed, and I mean that in the best way. ❤

I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

First of all, I can take full advantage of the holidays because I don’t have to worry about the side effects of chemo leaving me feeling like garbage. I managed to skip a week of chemo at Thanksgiving so I could enjoy that holiday with my family, but later, my sick week fell right across the week of Christmas. It was lovely.

Of course, I’m also thankful that I’m healthy and cancer free. I’m no longer pissed at my body for getting cancer, but thankful that it kicked cancer’s ass and that I was healthy enough to undergo and recover from the surgeries necessary to make me better. Yes, I may still have one surgical drain left, but I can live with that. Key word: live.

I’m thankful for my family and friends. They’ve been really amazing and supportive throughout this experience and knowing I had that safety net made my mental health a lot better than it could have been.

Same with my medical team. I never felt like I had to worry, that’s some serious confidence right there. I’m thankful I could have that support.

While I’m thankful for a lot of other stuff, I feel like it’s important to add that I’m thankful for all the things I ever took for granted while being “normal.” You don’t know until you’re limited in some way how easy you once had it. So I guess I’m thankful for that perspective. I’m thankful I can brush off the petty little things that may have bothered me before and worry about the real stuff. You know? Because, quite honestly, there isn’t all that much “real stuff.”

Granted, this isn’t true for everyone and everything, but it sure makes me roll my eyes a lot more often. Ha. 

 

Lowcountry Race for the Cure

DSCN5076

This is what the 2018 Team Rack Attack looked like. Just a handful of us who joined up together today to do the Susan G. Komen Lowcountry Race for the Cure.

It was my first event. I would have loved to have participated last year, but I was chemo sick so it just wasn’t in the cards. But it’s all good because I got to do it this year and fundraise for a cause I support – hope for a world without breast cancer.

Team Rack Attack did so well with donations that we earned a tent with breakfast and treats for being within the top five. There were some yummy breakfast burritos and biscuits from Triangle Char & Bar, Starbucks coffee, and cupcakes from Cupcake Down South. So amazing of those sponsors to do all that. I wasn’t expecting any rewards for raising money, so it was a very cool surprise. We got to decorate our special little tent space, and that was fun. (It’s still not too late to donate, you can click the “Race for the Cure” menu tab and follow the instructions.)

We pinked ourselves out and had a great time. I’m looking forward to seeing what next year brings!

On a different note: I’m sick! I started feeling it on Wednesday last week – lots of sneezing and coughing up crud, also a sore throat. That stayed with me for the rest of the week until I woke up feeling horrible Friday. I managed okay today, but was exhausted. After the walk, I went home and napped, and when I woke up the sore throat and body aches were present. I’m hoping it’s just exhaustion from a super busy week, but I’m laying low and drinking tea the rest of tonight and tomorrow.

F*ck Cancer

This is my super late post I made from the plane two weeks ago. Just got around to posting it. My bad!

I’m on a flight home from New York, typing this post into a Word document because I don’t feel like paying for the in-flight WiFi to connect to the blog. I’ll copy and paste it later. I was in New York for the wake and funeral for my Aunt Eleanor. She was diagnosed with cancer and we lost her quickly. I feel blessed that I was able to make the trip with my parents thanks to my sister’s frequent flyer miles.

It was nice seeing my family. I realized on this trip that it has been too damn long since I’ve seen any of them. And not just my family, but my friends, too.

I got to visit very briefly with my friend Melissa while I was there. She was so gracious to meet me at the hospital where I was visiting my other aunt and spend about fifteen minutes with me. I hadn’t seen her in twelve years. We’ve talked on Facebook and I tag her anytime I see anything that has to do with Buffy the Vampire Slayer because that was our thing years ago. Anyway, when I last saw her, she was pregnant with her twelve-year-old daughter, who I got to meet today. It’s crazy.

I’m not really sure what the solution is because I’m not made of money and certainly can’t afford to fly to New York with any type of frequency, and taking off days from work to make the drive just isn’t realistic either.

Speaking of which. Huge shout-out to my job and the people I work with because they are amazing. I mentioned in our group chat that I was going to see if I could find a sub for my Friday shift because I had a death in the family and wanted to see if I could make it out-of-town for the services, and they rallied and texted me before I could even do anything with a solution. Pretty amazing. I mean, I’ve worked at places where there was literally no impact whatsoever if I didn’t show up for a shift and received more grief over taking time off. Just one of the many things I love about my job.

It was really great seeing family, though. I hated that it was because of a funeral, but it was what it was. Maybe the next time it will be because someone got married or had a baby, which was the reason for the last three times I saw my family, which still sucks, but again…it is what it is. My wedding and Kerry’s wedding in 2008, then Kerry’s baby shower in 2012. I might not be able to visit New York every year, but surely I can head up there again in less than six years.

So blah blah blah, cancer sucks. We all know this. It has taken the life of yet another loved one. A woman who I always remember was so incredibly full of life. Always laughing and smiling. A woman who I hadn’t realized helped me learn to swim. This is something that was revealed to me through an old family video shared by my cousin Debbie.

I hate it, and it’s moments like this, when I’m reflecting on someone else’s journey that didn’t end positively, that I realize how lucky I am to have gotten through my cancer. Not everyone is so lucky.

As a survivor, I feel like I need to do good things with my life. Make some kind of an impact. Big or small, I don’t know. Just something. One of the reason I’m doing the fundraiser for Susan B. Komen and why I will likely do more fundraisers in the future. I know I don’t owe anyone anything. I know that. I know I’m not responsible for anything. But losing people you love hurts, and if there’s just one thing I can do to help ease that suffering for someone else, why not do something?

So enough deep thoughts for now. Our trip was crazy, an absolute whirlwind. I’ve literally been on this plane for like 4 hours already and the flight is only like one and a half hours long. We sat on the tarmac for nearly three hours at LaGuardia. Bananas. But we’re almost home now…

Day Zero Project

We did a thing! A fun thing. Ever hear of Day Zero Project? It’s a website where you can make massive, bucket list style to-do lists. I first came across it years ago, when I used to have a random blog, and made one of their 101 in 1001 lists. That’s 101 things to do in 1001 days, roughly 2.75 years, if I remember correctly. I never did finish that list, but when Brad and I were talking about having a sort of “life to-do” list, I immediately thought of DZP. What better place to host our list? And what fun to make it sort of a challenge at the same time?

So we made a list. Two, actually. Three, if you count the “done” list. One is the “101 in 1001” and the other is a “someday” list. It’s things we would like to do someday, but probably won’t get to before 1001 days is up…like different areas of Europe, tropical islands, etc. The catch is, we have to do the list items together! Things we do apart don’t count.

As I mentioned, we have some travel items, entertainment, food, classes, crafts, random date nights, and lots more.

Anyway, it’s super fun and I highly recommend it if you love a good list! Check ours out at this link.

We already worked on a few things this weekend when we had lunch at a local seafood joint and watched Ant-Man and the Wasp in the theater. It was a great Saturday afternoon date.