I had one job when I walked out onto the field during halftime at the Seahawks game Sunday: walk in a straight line, wave, and don’t trip.
Oh, and don’t pee your pants.
Why was I out on that field? I had the opportunity to join several other survivors in representing the thousands of women who have battled breast cancer in the Seattle area.
Of course, moments like this always seem to involve a lot of waiting…
And, a lot (A LOT) of walking.
Just to keep things interesting, I stepped on a piece of broken glass two days before the game. I drove myself and the little one to the ER and ended up getting seven stitches -and then all that walking in the stadium, and across the field, took place wearing this gorgeous bootie.
Don’t worry about the foot, it will be fine.
When I walked out on the field, I wasn’t worried about my foot at all. I had other things on my mind.
As we lined up under the goal post in the end zone, I suddenly realized that I had to pee. Fortunately, we were encouraged to dance. So that was me doing the potty dance to Katy Perry’s “Roar” as we walked across the field from one end zone to the next. Whatever works, right?
I also managed to get on and off the field without actually tripping, but at the first 20 yard line, I turned to look at my friend Pam who was walking behind me, and the guy in front of me stopped – so I walked right into him. I’m pretty reliable on these things.
I’m not the world’s biggest football fan, but I do love the celebratory feel of sporting events.
And the views…
But my favorite part of sporting events is the people watching. These were the people sitting right in front of me.
Not only is Barb riding in the West Coast Tour de Pink, but in September she completed the East Coast Tour de Pink, and earlier this year her gorgeous cherry blossom design was selected by Liv/Giant for their official Tour de Pink bicycle.
Barb isn’t alone in this, and that is one of the reasons that the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) exists. Cancer can be very lonely, and much of the the breast cancer outreach is oriented towards senior citizens, and does not address the issues faced by young women, such as dating after a mastectomy, fertility, building a career while battling cancer, a cancer diagnosis during pregnancy or while breast feeding, and too many other issues to list here. YSC is there to help make sure no young woman has to go through breast cancer alone.
Barb is not alone on the ride either; she has a team pedaling along with her. Team Sakura is named for the Japanese word for the cherry blossom. These delicate blooms have taken on a special meaning for the members of our YSC group in Seattle. The blooms light up our spring, and they signify the temporary nature of life, as well as it’s delicate beauty. And they remind us to embrace each moment, to live fully, throwing everything we’ve got at life.
And so they ride. They ride to get back at cancer, they ride to support each other, and they ride because they can.
Last year’s Tour de Pink was the first for Karen Lawson as well. Neither Barb nor Karen thought of themselves as athletes. Karen said, “I thought it seemed beyond my wildest dreams. I could barely walk during treatment and physical exercise afterwards seemed like a million miles away from what I could manage.”
Barb and Karen trained together, along with their partners, Brent and Sebastian. The training can be difficult, often extending over a hundred miles each week. But completing the ride was a fulfilling experience:
“I’m awed by the support and love from all the other riders and volunteers. They are so dedicated. And then I’m so awed by the survivors riding. Really taking back their lives and doing something so hard with such grace. The ride is really tough, but it also feels really safe because there is so much support. It was a great achievement and made me feel really powerful. I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone but myself and I’m proud that I did that.”
This year they’ve got a much bigger team, that means more support, and more fun and antics as they prepare. Training is still intense, but they always travel at the speed of the slowest rider. It’s not a race, and no one gets left behind.
Sheila Cain is new to the Tour de Pink this year. She was surprised at the commitment involved in training. In the beginning she thought hour long rides were time consuming, but now six hour training runs are frequent. The sacrifice and the challenge of the Tour de Pink is not just the 200 miles one weekend each fall, it’s also the months of training that make that ride possible.
[Photos provided by Karen Lawson and Nicole Taylor]
Team Sakura Members:
Carl Taylor* *training only
These amazing people have done so much. They’ve endured the cut, poison, and burn that is cancer treatment – or they’ve been there for their partners through it. They’ve put in the blood and sweat to train for this event. The members of this team have logged countless hours volunteering for YSC in other capacities as well. And now, they are ten days away from the start of this epic ride.
They have a team page, and they have a team fundraising obligation of $25,000, and they are almost there. But not quite. As of today, they are about $1,500 short.
I’ve talked about YSC ad nauseum on this blog – but only because I am so passionate about this organization. The doctors saved my life, but it was YSC that saved me, my sanity, my spirit, my sense of self. I had wonderful friends and family members who were so helpful during treatment, but they didn’t comprehend what I was going through. The women at YSC did, and they helped me pull myself through.
I wrote this post last year, but Team Sakura rides again this year! Here’s a link to their 2014 fundraising page, in case you’re inclined to support these amazing women, and this organization that helps so many women living with cancer.
I have this enduring image of Candice in my head. It’s not real, it’s imaginary, but there’s truth in it. She’s wearing a white Grecian gown and angel wings. No, not actual angel wings – these she crafted, right there in my imagination. She whipped up these wings from 14-gauge wire, feathers, a bolt of vintage white and gold Hollywood Regency fabric, and her emergency glitter supply. They’re fabulous. So was she.
It’s her posture that really grabs my attention: a shrug, with her shoulders and hands slightly elevated. And with that shrug, she says “Hey, I’m not one to judge. Whatevs. But it seems like going out and doing something fun would be a better way to remember me than just sitting there on the couch.”
So I went to a party.
Ok, so it was a gathering of her friends with breast cancer, but she would have understood and approved.
We tried to wrap our heads around the fact that this bright light in our circle of friends was gone. We all wrestled with our own mortality. We talked about how difficult it is to describe Candice, and have people really understand just how awesome she was, or how deeply her absence is felt, about the urge to insist, “But you don’t understand! This was CANDICE!” Of course people didn’t understand, unless they’d met her. You only had to meet her once to really get it.
I mean, this is the girl who responded to the diagnosis of Stage IV cancer by learning to play the ukulele.
She really lived. She had a short life, 31 years, but she lived the full breadth of it.
The first time I met her she walked in bald and bold and lit up the room with her megawatt smile.
This was a support group for young women with breast cancer (Young Survival Coalition), and most of us showed up the first time not just bald, but feeling exposed, raw, and terrified – of both the cancer and the prospect of group therapy.
I remember tucking my feet up under me on the couch, and trying to hide behind a throw pillow, as if that was possible.
Not Candice. She walked in with a kind of confidence that made everyone take notice. She was even a bit giddy, asking so many questions, and even stopping to apologize for taking over the conversation. But glancing around the room, I could see the other girls were just as thrilled as I was with this new energizing personality in our group.
We all leaned forward when she spoke.
She had this big, generous spirit, ready to help out, lift spirits, or whatever was needed. But she didn’t take shit. She would call your shit out in a heart beat. I loved her for that. too.
We often discussed the bullshit that surrounds cancer, the stupid Facebook games where people pretend to be pregnant and that’s some how supposed to be supportive of people with breast cancer or spread breast cancer awareness… I could never figure out how anyone thought that would help. It just pissed Candice off. The way people tell us, “Oh, you’ll be fine, you’ve got a great attitude.” As if cancer paid any attention whatsoever to my attitude, or anyone else’s.
Candice did have a great attitude; can we just retire that particular turn of phrase?
Candice and I had this knack for getting hospitalized at the same time. She spent much more time in the hospital, but it seemed each time I went in, she was already there or showed up shortly thereafter.
This would be a bit more fun if we were roommates, or even showing up at the same hospital. But no, she went to Swedish and I went to UWMC, and then we’d sit up with our phones and laptops and text from one bed to another, laughing at the absurdity that so often accompanies cancer.
One afternoon after she was admitted to her room (I was at home) and we were chatting online when I had a medical situation come up. I called my nurse and they decided I should head straight in to the ER. Unfortunately, I was 20 miles away, and my car was in the shop.
I was still online with Candice, and she sent her husband to pick me up and take me to my hospital. Again with the absurdity as he left his wife’s side at one hospital to retrieve me and drop me off at another hospital before returning back to her.
There were so many stories like this we shared at our cancer girls party to remember Candice. We laughed. A lot. And then we got out those wild wigs that Candice rocked, and in a move we’re sure she would have loved, we each donned a wig (there were exactly enough wigs for our party) and toasted the memory of our dear friend.
I’ve been sitting on this post for nearly 3 weeks now. Partly just processing, trying to come to terms with losing my friend. But part of it is also the perfectionist in me. I don’t want to end this post right here because there are so many things I haven’t said yet – things I haven’t figured out how to say, funny stories, photos locked away in a cantankerous hard drive that I still need to retrieve, and I’m sure I could rework a few of those paragraphs a couple dozen times . . .
But I’ve got to let it go. I’ve got to get this posted, because in some odd way, withholding this post is keeping me from saying goodbye. And as hard as it is for me to say this, it’s time for me to start saying goodbye to my friend.
So I will leave you with this video of Candice Bailey and her ukulele and a friend singing “Sunshine through the Rain.”
I learned the hard way that the financial implications of cancer extend well beyond just the cost of medical care. It’s a far too frequent story where jobs are lost, or the hours worked drop below the minimum to maintain health insurance – or pay the rent.
The cost of babysitters alone could bankrupt a family, and then there’s all those extra meals eaten out, and meal delivery services on speed dial, because mama just didn’t have the strength to prepare dinner. Again.
And don’t even ask about the condition of the house. At a time when cleanliness is more important than ever, the strength to tackle that job is tied up in continuing the cycle of breath entering and exiting the body in a timely manner. It’s really hard to scrub toilets while you’re going through chemo.
Paying it forward
Debbie Cantwell was blessed with a strong support system while she was going through her own breast cancer battle, so she decided to pay it forward. From her kitchen table, and armed with determination and inspiration, Debbie started a non-profit organization, the Pink Daisy Project, to help other young women with breast cancer who were struggling and didn’t have the same kind of strong support system to call on.
This is a very small scale non-profit, and the grants to these young women with breast cancer are quite small as well, a few hundred dollars in gift cards or services. Just enough to turn the tide a bit, to get the momentum going again, a lift, a kindness, hope.
How the Pink Daisy Project helped me
The help I received from the Pink Daisy Project while I was going through treatment did all those things for me. I could buy diapers for my baby, and put gas in the car, but it did something more than that, too. By lifting one of my burdens, the gift lifted my spirits. I felt less weighed down. It put a little bit of bounce in my step, my energy level actually improved. Kindness has huge implications in the world.
Every once in a while, I take advantage of the fact that my blog has an audience to tell people about the good work that the Pink Daisy Project is doing. I want to shout it from the rooftops.
But, at a moment like this, more importantly, I want people to consider giving. Financially, times are tough for most of us right now, and that translates into fewer and smaller donations than usual. Of course, the need remains, and applications for assistance keep coming in.
I think its important to note that the money is not just sent out to just anyone. There is an application process, and the stories are vetted. These are amazing, resilient women, who found the strength to ask for help when it became necessary. These are women who take care of others, but at this moment, need some care taking from others. Here is another family that the Pink Daisy Project helped.
This is Shelly and her son:
My name is Shelly and I’m a young breast cancer survivor.
During treatments and surgeries my marriage fell apart, I was unable to work and had another surgery in a week when me and my son had to leave an abusive life. I was terrified!
School was getting ready to start and I couldn’t even get pencils for my son.
Pink Daisy stepped into my life at that point, I received gift cards for Kroger , with those I was able to get all the supplies my son needed! I was also given food cards that helped us to have what little money I had go towards getting utilities turned on and food in our stomachs.
I cried with relief to be able to do these things, my son had already been thru so much, watching me go thru everything with treatments, and lost his world when we had to leave. And PDP helped me help my son thru the most difficult time we ever faced.
Me and my son have plans to help pay this gift forward so other families in same positions can get the help and lifeline Pink Daisy gives! We thank Pink Daisy and all the supporters of this wonderful group with all our hearts!
Please consider giving, or at least sharing this story.
Those were the words I wrote without thinking: “a relearning how to dream after cancer blog.” I was shocked when I looked back and saw that I described my blog in this manner. Since writing the post, I’ve gone back and stared at those words countless times. To be honest, the words make me a little uncomfortable. Those hastily written words contain truths I didn’t realize were simmering under the surface.
Friday Night I found myself on stage at Courage Night as one of five women reading our work about surviving cancer. In the Q&A session, as I was describing how my blog had evolved, I recited this line from that blog post: “CoffeeJitters has been a single girl making her way in the world blog, a wedding blog, an infertility blog, a photography blog, a quitting my job and going back to school full time blog, a wow! I’m pregnant! blog, a mommy blog, a cancer blog, ….” except I swallowed the words “a relearning how to dream after cancer blog.”
No, in a room full of cancer survivors, women I love and trust, and who understand better than any one else, I could barely voice those words I had already published. I’m still not quite sure whether I said them out loud when I was at the mic.
I am currently taking Susannah Conway’s “Blogging from the Heart” class, which is proving to be more magical that I could have ever dreamed. This class is also bringing me face to face with that line – “a trying to relearn how to dream after cancer blog.” She is asking me to dig deep, and think about the purpose of my blog. It is easy to spot the focus on gratitude and appreciation of everyday magic, but this blogging practice is also challenging me to stretch.
Just as a physical injury can leave the body bound up in a tight little ball of muscle, the emotional trauma can have a similar impact on the spirit. Yoga and stretching and movement will little by little improve the flexibility and range of the body, but it’s sometimes painful and frightening. It is work that exists entirely outside of the comfort zone. I’ve reached the point where I understand what I have been intuitively trying to do, yet simultaneously resisting – to improve the flexibility and range of my imagination, of my ability to re-dream my future.
The process is slow and difficult, but looking back I can see how I have gradualy expanded the time frame of my dreams. Since diagnosis, I’ve had trouble imagining my life more than a few weeks or months ahead. Now my dreams stretch as far as five years out. Some day soon, I’ll be able to imagine myself at my daughter’s high school graduation.
In the cold, dark, fear of 3 a.m., when the cancer patient is most alone, I found ToddlerPlanet, a blog written by cancer fighting princess warrior, awesome mommy, and astrophysicist, Susan Niebur (also known as @whymommy).
Days after my diagnosis, before I learned to reign in my imagination and to view Dr.Google for what it is, I found Susan’s blog. I read for hours: post after post, page after page. It seemed she was speaking directly to me, addressing my personal concerns about life, death, love, cancer, and most important to me at that moment, the well being of my child. No sensationalism, just an honest look at life and parenting as impacted by cancer.
It would be difficult and frustrating, and at times, extremely painful, she seemed to say, but my days would still be full of love and joy, and I can still be an awesome mom, and my child can still be happy. I read those pages through tears; I was so relieved and hopeful. In the two years since then, we formed an internet friendship, tweeting and commenting on each other’s blog posts. The internet has made possible friendships between people who have never met.
Who will never meet.
Today I read her blog again through tears. Susan passed away today. She touched so many lives, her husband and little boys, her friends and family, the science community, the blogging community, the cancer and health advocacy community… and me, a girl at a computer Seattle, whose life was blessed by knowing her, even though we never met.
Is it just me, or does the moon seem to be a bit bigger and brighter tonight? I’m going to think of it as Susan’s moon.
Thank you, Susan, for the love and hope and strength you shared with all of us. Godspeed.