I was getting ready for Get Hitched Give Hope, an amazing, annual charity event that pairs wedding planners and vendors with happy couples planning their nuptials, and the proceeds benefit two organizations that support people living with cancer: the Young Survival Coalition and the Dream Foundation. It was my biggest formal event of the season, and the driving Seattle rain had just gone horizontal.
I was so glad I arranged with Vera to have stylists come to my home to do my hair and makeup. I could get beautified at home in my pajamas, and not have to brave the weather until I left for the party.
My hair likes to frizz and be difficult, and on a rainy day like this, I needed help. Tanya Joseph came over to do my hair.
Since she was right there in my home, I could show her my dress and jewelry, so she was able to make suggestions that would balance the neckline, accessories, and my hairstyle.
I washed it right before she arrived so it was ready for her to get started with a blowout.
And then we had a lovely chat while she did my hair.
I’m telling you, even in this tiny apartment, I felt like royalty having someone come over to help me get prettied up.
After Tanya finished with my hair, Megan Yamamoto came over to do my makeup.
Megan showed up with a coolest tower of tools and sooooo many pretty colors. Her hands worked magic with a palette and a few palette knives, blending colors and shades and consistency to find just the right mix for my skin.
She listened to my fears about too much color on my face, or the way my eyes get lost in shadows with too much smokey eye shadow. She found a good balance, and while I was a little nervous at first, I loved the look when she was done.
By the time they were both done getting me all prettied up, the sun broke through the clouds and we were treated to a stunning rainbow.
I kept thinking how much easier it would have been to have stylists come to us for my own wedding.
The rain held off for the rest of the night, and I had a lovely time at the event with some of my favorite people.
My hair stayed beautiful all night long, with nary a frizz, my makeup stayed put and looked fabulous, and Get Hitched Give Hope raised a lot of money to help people living with cancer while helping a lot of love birds plan their weddings.
Rather successful day all the way around, I’d say.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Vera and the stylists for providing these services to me for this special event at no charge.
Today’s guest contributor is Sonya Davis. Sonya writes about her experience as a breast cancer survivor, and as the child of a breast cancer survivor.
Photos courtesy of Sonya Davis.
In some ways I think I’m lucky. I have a strong family history of cancer – on both sides of my family. I am the youngest person in my family to be diagnosed and the first of my generation of cousins, but the idea of cancer is not new to my family. My own mother was told that with her personal history, my sister and I had a 50/50 chance of getting cancer at some point in our life. I’m hoping that I took the bullett for my sister. While the diagnosis was shocking and disturbing, I can’t say it was surprising. And while the diagosis wasn”t surprising, there were some surprises I want to share.
Surprise 1 – The bills
I knew cancer was expensive, but I had no idea of the financial tail spin the bills would send me in to. It frustrates me to no end that I’m still making payments, 3 years after diagnosis. And I have fairly decent health insurance. I have no idea how people who don’t have insurance do it. After treatment, all you want to do is move on with your life, but that is pretty hard to do when you keep getting bills.
Surprise 2 – How much stronger I am now
Some tmes I look at things I do now and think “wow, i never would have done that 3 years ago”. The first time I realized this was the first time I danced in public without being under the influence of large quantities of alchol. And you know what? It feels great. I love the confidence and strength I now see in myself. I also love that I no longer sweat the small stuff like I used to.
Surprise 3 – the doctor visits never seem to end
Every time I turn around, it seems like I have another doctor appointment. It’s all for little stuff that always seems to turn out fine, but you never know. And then there is the question “Which doctor do I ask?” Fortunatly, both my oncologist and my primary care doctor always take me seriously, but I am getting tired of always having a question.
Three years out from diagnosis, this is where I’m at. This is me and all I can do is keep myself moving forward.
A child’s perspective of a parent’s cancer
One common theme I often hear from parents who have been diagnosed with cancer is they are worried about their kids. I don’t have kids, am not an expert on kids, but do have one thing in common with the kids – my mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was still a kid. And I always have one thing I want to share with parents: I’m ok. And your kids will be too.
Honestly, I don’t remember much about my mom’s cancer experience. I don’t know if it is because I shut it out or because I was wrapped up in my teenage self, like any normal 16-year-old. Probably the latter. I do know I was upset. I remember having to leave the house because my sister was playing “the wind beneath my wings” on the piano and I couldn’t listen to it. I remember my aunt pulling out her prosthesis to show me what it looked like. I remember when and why she decided not to do chemo. It’s part of my history, but it did not define who I am.
Were it not for my mom’s history, I probably wouldn’t have caught my own cancer when I did. I was not afraid I’d get cancer, but I was aware I could. Cancer did not occupy my thoughts the way it does now – I knew enough to be aware it could happen, but it was an after thought.
I very much hope that you ever have to hear that your child has cancer, but if you do know that your child’s journey will be different than yours, but you can provide support like no other. My mom never expects me to just move on. She understands the day to day fears. She never makes me feel like i’m over reacting. She encourages me to take my fears seriously and get things checked out. She’s my biggest support. She’s my hero.
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’ve had a little practice with change management – those changes that are planned months and years in advance, those changes that come out of nowhere and leave you off balance with your head spinning, and those little gradual changes that sneak up on you, and one day you realize your baby is half your height, and has opinions that are very much all her own.
The best parts of my life came about through change, as did the worst. I’ve been thinking about my attraction/repulsion response to change – sometimes both sensations at the same time in regards to the same issue.
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, and a relearning how to dream after cancer blog.
I’m still trying to relearn how to dream after cancer. It’s surprising how much imagination and willpower it takes to re-imagine your future after this kind of diagnosis. But, now I’ve moved on a little, from dreaming to planning, and even doing. Baby steps, people.
This blog is my story, my life, and mostly, a very public love letter to my husband and daughter. If you’d like to read more, here are a few of my favorites to get you started:
“People give you 3 months to mourn, and a year to have cancer, then they expect you to get back to normal.”
I don’t know where I heard this quote first, but I’ve experienced the truth of the statement both in terms of mourning and cancer recovery.
It’s not that I’m faced with the reality of that quote on a daily basis, but it does remind me that while the lingering effects of my cancer still impact every single day of my life, many around me have moved on; my cancer is old news and in their minds, overplayed.
I understand this perspective; I’ve been there myself. I know people whom I’ve avoided because every conversation, for years, involved detailed information about the wellbeing of their bladder or their gout.
It does get old, and frankly, there are some details I just don’t need to know.
I do try to avoid being that person who unloads in that manner, but the fact that cancer is still a part of my present life is depressing to others, as well. People want good news. Something better than “I was able to hold on to my pen long enough to write a whole page,” which is a big deal to me as a writer and avid journal keeper whose dominant arm was significantly impacted by cancer treatment, but not so meaningful to everyone else.
I don’t talk about those things anymore. I swallow my words, and put on a mask, and when people ask how I’m doing, I just say “awesome” and leave it at that.
This is where a group like the Young Survival Coalition, and a retreat like Harmony Hill, are so critical to the wellbeing of a cancer survivor like me. It’s not just a retreat away from the stresses of everyday life, it’s a coming together with other women with similar experiences and battle scars. A three day weekend where we can compare notes, treatments, ongoing issues, what works for me, what doesn’t, and how we’re coping with all of it is not just healing, it’s normalizing – in a good way.
We’re not alone in this experience. We can share without the fear of being perceived as complaining. We can make fun of our condition and laugh at cancer in a way that often makes others uncomfortable. It’s summer camp crossed with a slumber party, plus booze and minus the curfew. It’s yoga, meditation, labyrinth walking, beach combing, flower smelling, and lawn napping, followed by good food, good conversation, and tearing the best parts out of magazines for each of us to make something uniquely our own.
And it’s research. I’m looking forward to another surgery in the next few months. This one will involve 12 hours under the knife – that’s a long time – plus six weeks of recovery. It’s not something to take lightly. But I spent a weekend with 23 other cancer survivors, most of whom have already endured this surgery. I got better information on what to expect and how to prepare from these women who already went through it than from the doctor who has performed this procedure hundreds of times. And that’s to be expected. As much as these doctors know about performing this procedure, they haven’t experienced it.
I’m so thankful I have this group of survivors in my life. That we got to get away together, away from all the other stresses and demands of life for a couple days seems like a miracle. I know it took a lot of work to pull it together, but it was so worth it. I love you girls.
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.