Monday, September 30, 2013


It's that wonderful time of year! That time of year when the world looks like it has thrown up Pepto-Bismol everywhere. Ah yes, the lovely Pinktober, when the world is full of pink! And ribbons! And boobs!

Pardon me while I go and bury my head in the sand for this month. I'm over it. Guess what? I had breast cancer, I don't need to walk into my local stores and see nothing but pink to make me aware. My guess is, for most of you reading this blog (and most of America), neither do you. I've never met someone who isn't aware of breast cancer.

That's not to say, I know lots of people who aren't properly educated about breast cancer. But awareness and education are two different things. So are, frankly, awareness and action. And while all these feel good campaigns are out there to tell us that the 5 year survival rate has gone up (which is good, don't get me wrong), what they leave out is the deaths per 100,000 women has remained almost the same - in 1970, 28.4 in every 100,000 women died from breast cancer. In 2012? It was 26.1 deaths in every 100,000 women. Do you see this? Do you see? We've managed to save 2 women out of every 100,000 in 40 years.

Now, obviously this is awesome news for those 2 women. However, this is really terrible news for the other 26. Does this seem like progress to you? Are you happy with this?

Breast cancer probably gets the most attention. Especially in Ocotber, when we are inundated with messages about saving the boobs, save second base, etc, etc.

Well, pardon me while I tell you, I don't care about saving the boobs, tits, breasts, second bases, whatever name you want to call them. I want to save lives. I'm tired of pink everywhere, of boobs everywhere, all in the name of a cure that we haven't managed to find yet.

Do I seem angry? Yes. Probably because I've lost too many people to breast cancer and know too many more right now living with stage IV cancer. I've known too many people who are still dealing with side effects of treatment, who might not have cancer now, but worry about (not if) but when it will come back? Who look at their bodies and feel terrible about the scars, the implants, the lack of nipples. Who have to walk around the entire month of October and see boobs everywhere and hear about how we want to save breasts.

I believe the message started off innocently enough - bring people together, unite over a ribbon, but it seems lately it's been commercialized. Now I see products in pink with ribbons on the package, but read the fine print - the company isn't giving money to any group, they are simply making it pink, charging more, and hoping you'll feel so good about buying pink you won't notice they are pocketing all the money.

This is not to say that I am bothered by those who wear pink to support friends, family members, spouses, grandparents, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, etc. No. That is different - that is people coming together to show support. I love that, and I love stories about it. This is not what I'm talking about though.

I'm talking about ads with breasts and a nice little pink ribbon telling you to buy pink stuff to help the fight. Never mind the fact that they would never in a million years, allow the breasts of a breast cancer survivor to be in their ads. Because, despite the fact that many of us have implants, and people joke about how we got a boob job, our breasts are not pretty. They are not gorgeous. They'd never make the cut for an ad.

This is how October makes me feel. In talking to others, I know I'm not alone in this. {I also know some survivors embrace and love it}. I love people coming together. I love people wanting to do good in this world. I think as a society we could do this so much better - we could come together in a way where real education is shared, where actions take place, where October isn't just a month for companies to try to sell pink stuff.

That is what I dream of. That is what I long to see. Not more boobs. Not more meaningless pink stuff. Let's work on changing the mortality rate in big ways, let's work on coming together to make a big difference. I'm not sure how we do this, but I know we can.

How about you? How does Pinktober make you feel?
28.4 number in 1970
28.4 number in 1970
It was 28.4 in the same 100,000 women.
It was 28.4 in the same 100,000 women.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What I Didn't Know I Needed

tonight's moon taken by me
It's a Saturday night, just after midnight. I'm sitting on my couch, in jammies, watching netflix.

I'm exhausted. Yet I can't sleep. This isn't the first night recently like this. In fact, it's not the second or third or tenth. It is frustrating .... beyond frustrating. I'd like to call my doctor, actually I'd like to call all of them, and just say please fix me - make my body start absorbing things like iron, make the stomach and other digestive issues go away, make more energy come to me, just fix it all.

Of course I can't do that at the moment, so I muscle through it, because really, what else is there? I've got this amazing family that is counting on me to do a lot of things. And in general, I enjoy doing those things. But. It's. So. Hard.

I can't fix the physical stuff right now. I'm doing what I can - eating iron-rich foods and pairing them with citrus. I'm having my dairy not with my iron. I'm spacing my dairy to ease my stomach. I'm eating more soups because they are tolerated better. I'm resting when I need to. I'm sure it's helping, or I hope it's helping. But it's not fixing.

So I turn to the emotional side of things. It's hard to feel happy when you feel so broken.

But. But I don't want to be a downer. I don't want to be stuck - not in cancer-land (or I guess post-cancer land) or in the woe-is-me mindset. Because it's easy to be stuck there, for me at least.

And yet I'm not a sunshine and rainbows and unicorns kind of person. Or a cancer is such a gift! person. Or a my life is so much better now! thinker. (Nothing against those who are, it's just not me).

However. There is space in the middle. I can be happy, and still feel icky. I can have a smile on my face, but still think cancer is the crappiest "gift" I've ever received. I can spend a few minutes venting and then spend the next two hours laughing and talking about a million other things. This sense of balance - the good, the bad, the stuff that makes me want to cry with the stuff that just makes me smile, it's always been hard for me. It's been even harder the last few years.

I often feel that I need to be HAPPY and UPBEAT and ALWAYS SMILE NO MATTER WHAT!!!! This is definitely mostly self-imposed, though I see this pressure in the cancer community - just stay positive! And it's scared me from any sort of support group. We're supposed to talk about how cancer is gift and has transformed me into a wonderful person and now the whole world is a better place because of it. No, seriously, I went to a meeting once and this was how people talked. It was their truth (or I hope it was and no one was acting to fit in). The women fed off of it and seemed happy. I felt awkward and uncomfortable. I also wondered what was wrong with me, and why I couldn't do cancer "right" - the way those women were doing it. So I shied away.

Going on my First Descents Trip last month changed all that for me. It wasn't a support group per say. But it was. There was so much weight lifted off my shoulders. It was just people hanging out, talking, sharing - the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. It was freeing. So freeing. When I came home I immediately told my husband I needed this here. On a regular basis. It was refreshing and wonderful.

So thanks to a friend, I got plugged into a local cancer group that was less traditional support group and more, hey get together and whatever. Tonight I went to my first group get "meeting". We met at a restaurant and just hung out. Lots of talking, lots of laughter and smiles, lots of sharing. I left feeling lighter. The world was not magically transformed but my brain felt recharged so my ability to deal with the world drastically went up.

I suppose we are a support group. Not one with a social worker or therapist leading it. Not one that meets at hospital or cancer center. Just people, coming together to hang out, and oh yeah, we all had or have cancer. And in that coming together, there is so much support. And some new friends. Who don't freak out when you talk about your nipples (or lack thereof) because some of them are like "ME TOO!" Before you know the whole tables is laughing over nipples, even the guys.

This is what I've needed. This is what was missing. I just didn't know it. I didn't know it until I was there and saw how perfectly it felt in my heart and head.

When I walked back to the car, I noticed the moon in the sky. Tonight's moon was gorgeous. A bright, big, almost full moon - complete with it's scars and craters, at home in the sky amongst so many stars. That's what I felt like. My scarred, imperfect self, hanging out with a bunch of stars. And it was perfect.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

GPS To Your True Wealth

Note: I am being compensated for sharing this information for you. However, as always, all my opinions are my own! 

So, the bonus to not having any insurance (which is only being typed half-sarcastically) is that I have more time on my hands this month. No therapy appointments, no blood draws, no doctor's visits, no tests to be ordered, nothing. It is kind of, well, nice. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather have insurance, but the break from the poking, prodding, driving to and fro is nice.

And since I've been home, I've been able to do more more things. I've cooked a bit more than I usually do. Okay, a lot more since I cooked maybe once a month before and relied on my husband, kids, left overs before. I've had more time to watch Netflix (related: watch Fringe. It's awesome. I just saw the final episode and they ended it well). And I've had time to be on-line a bit more.

So last week I sat at the computer, with twitter open in one tab and the Chicagonisata LIVE in another tab. This is a monthly on-line talk show that streams from Chicago and is a fabulous Chicago show, but seriously, don't think you need to be in Chicago to watch it because there's great info and lots of fun packed into each show! I was extra happy to catch it because they were broadcasting from the Chicago Board of Trade and were kicking off a 6 part series called GPS To Your True Wealth. Let's be honest here folks - between the medical issues we've had for the last few years and then job loss, car purchase, etc, to say the finances in this house need a little work would be a huge understatement. (side note: this is not to say that we can't feed or cloth ourselves).

We had built up an emergency fund before (I've blogged about it here), which we used during the emergency of my health issues, but we'd like build it up again, as we've essentially used it all. It is time for us to rebuild. We've done it before, so it's not entirely new to us, and yet, this time it feels different. We are at a different point in life, the kids are at different ages, and while there is no cancer, I still have health issues we have to juggle. Not to mention college for the kids is much closer. Medical costs are so much higher now and the kids only cost more as they age. So I feel a bit overwhelmed just thinking about it all. I might even be slightly hyperventilating as I type this out. Again, we aren't going to starve, but things are very tight and we definitely need to work on being frugal. So much feels unknown at this point - there's a new job, I wonder if I will ever be healthy again, the kids are getting older, and to have the security of that emergency fund again would give us peace.

So, anyway, I tuned into Chicagonista LIVE and felt myself nodding along to so much of what they were talking about. It wasn't just about money either - but also talking about what is important to you if you could take money out of the equation. Because, really, if you don't know what's important to you without money, how will you know what to do with your money? There was a nice reminder to me that I needed to be involved with the finances. I kind of am involved, but I'm really not. I get depressed doing bills with my husband because so many are for my medical things and I feel all sad inside, so I try to avoid it. However, as they talked about on the show, all the adults in a household need to be on board with the finances and to know where things are at always. Yes, I agree. Yes, this is the motivation I needed to jump back in the game! So, I'm watching the show, nodding along, listening to all that's being said, tworking (tweeting while working, which okay, I don't really work, but being a mom is a job so I can say I tworked right? LOL!), feeling pretty motivated and ready to tackle it all. Which is perfect, because they gave us homework to do.

So, I know homework doesn't sound that exciting, but a) I like homework and b) it wasn't hard and c) it is a great starting (or restarting as the case may be) point. I eagerly printed the worksheet off and then waited for Eric to fill it out together. As you can see, the emergency fund is our focus right now. Ideally, 6 months of living expenses would be in it when it's full! The second question was hard for me - it asks about what life events could impact your finances. For us, it was a no-brainer: my health. Which was hard to write down, but it is what it is and I can't ignore that. The last question is about what wealth aside from money do you want to pass along in your family. I love this question because life is so much more than money. We need it to survive obviously - no one's going to get groceries on an upbeat personality, but sometimes it's easy to forget it just isn't all about money!

It also asks you to round up your bills, receipts, important financial papers, etc for the next segment (oh, did I mention yet? There will be a total of 6 segments in this series! So, I guess I will have to start scheduling doctors appointment around these shows because I do not want to miss them). So this part was easy for us, we already have everything organized into a couple of folders and a filing system, etc. If you don't though (because we haven't always been so organized) it can seem daunting to get it all together, but I promise you, you will not regret it! So do it - it's best done in the just-dive-in-head-first-and-get-it-done fashion I think!

And now I will sit and impatiently waiting for the second segment of the series to air (October 8 if you want to mark it in your calendar!) which will be about navigating and tracking! This is going to be an awesome series overall I think - the chunks are small enough that it doesn't seem overwhelming, but a lot of great information is being shared!

Right now, you are probably thinking, Brandie, I need to get in on this! Because finances are so FUN and I LOVE them! So. Okay, maybe you don't really think finances are fun - confession: neither do I. But, they are important, and I want to be in control of my finances and not have my finances in control of me. So, I suggest you start with this video, it's short and sweet and does a great job of introducing the series!

Then you need to print out the first worksheet from here - put your goals, your (hypothetical or not) hurdles, your dreams down on paper. (I love this step because for me, putting them on paper makes them seem more concrete and more real.)

Then come and watch the rest of the series. The next two segments air:
  • October 8, 2013  2pm CST
  • November 12, 2013  2pm CST
I will update when the last three segments will air as soon as the website lists them, though in general, they are all the 2nd Tuesday of the month!

I'm excited. This is good timing for our house ... I hope it's as good of timing for your house as well. Maybe things are tight for you, or maybe you feel like you just don't have good control of the finances, or maybe things are looking good and you just want them to look better - I think there is something for everyone in this series. And I hope you follow along with me!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Crochet Saved My Life

*I was given the book, but not paid to write this review. As always though, my thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Crochet Saved My Life cover
At the start of this year, or even maybe at the end of last year, I was contacted to see if I wanted a review copy of the book Crochet Saved My Life by Kathryn Vercillo. Yes, I am a terrible blogger, because only almost a year later I am ready to tell you all about this book. I still struggle with reading, especially non-fiction, so this book was difficult for me to get through {not because of the writing though, merely because of my brain}, but I figured, better late than never? And also, this book touched me in such a good way.

I'm sure for those of you who know me, you'll know why I jumped at a chance to get my hands on Crochet Saved My Life. Granted, I mostly knit, but in my world, knitting and crochet are cousins - different and yet related and both wonderful. I've written before about how knitting has been a grounding force in my life and something that helps me get through the tough times (here and here). On some days knitting feels like my lifeline. This book made me feel not alone in that.

Crochet Saved My Life explores how crochet can help people through tough times - mentally, emotionally, and physically. However, it does not say that crochet is the end all, be all. The book revolves around people's stories with some studies and facts thrown in. Vercillo recommends crochet (or knitting, or whatever is your thing) during hard times, not as a cure - but as something that can help you along with any treatments or medicines your doctors are giving you.

crochet project in progress Reading other people's stories is what resonated with me. Knowing I am not alone in how I feel about working with yarn is wonderful. I read so many of the stories nodding my head in agreement or just thinking to myself yep, I so understand that! I would have liked to round up all the women who shared their stories int his book and have dinner with them all. I think I would have walked away feeling like I found some kindred spirits.

As a bonus, in addition to connecting me to these wonderful personal stories, the back of the book has some mindfulness exercises for crocheters. It also includes some finger/wrist stretches. I've used both and found them very helpful, especially when I'm feeling extra stressed or anxious.

Overall, I just really loved this book so very much. It resonated so much with me and made me feel less strange for relying on my knitting in hard times. I think, even though the focus is on crochet, anyone who works with this their hands (knitting, hand sewing, etc) will feel a connection to this book, to the stories, to the people in it. I highly recommend this book and encourage you to read it. I do have a warning though ... as you read it, it will make you want to pick up your yarn and hook and start to crochet!

I'll leave you with a few of my favorite quotations from the book. Parts that stood out extra to me, that I felt like I could have said myself!

"...part [of why it's relaxing] is thinking about who will receive the end product. It's difficult to be worried when you're thinking about how someone else is going to enjoy your handmade item" ~ Martha Stone

"When I crochet I don't think about how my body is now broken; I think about how I can create something beautiful and useful with my hook and either yarn or threat." ~Vicki Sulfaro

"The colors and feel of the yarn made me feel like I was home and that I fit once again and the pleasant click of my favorite red, aluminum hook against my wedding ring as I hook the yarn that weaves through my fingers is audible, tactile and grounding. There is no room for worry, for grieving, for regret, for analyzing when I focus on one stitch at a time. The process of healing take precedence." ~ Nessa

Monday, September 09, 2013

Health Updates

So, it's a good thing my body and I had this amazing trip a few weeks ago, because my body is struggling again! Yep, it's time for another health update

First, the good stuff. I have been released from therapy. I love my occupational therapist and she has done amazing things for my arm ... range of motion is fabulous, and pretty normal. This is so far from where I started and I'm so thankful for that. I'm starting to strength train now. It's awesome. I am currently using a two pound weight, which I'm sure seems "cute" to some people, but hey, I'm okay with using two pounds. It's where I'm at and that's okay.  I'm using the compression sleeve almost daily and the heat and humidity definitely make me swell so I'm avoiding being outside at those times (and thankfully this summer hasn't been too terribly hot or humid, which is good for me!). The arm is looking good.

However, because there always has to be a however with me, my iron levels have completely tanked. Again. In October I will try to get iron via IV again. I'm all sorts of nervous about this. Last time we tried this (just under a year ago) it didn't go so well. I had an allergic reaction, we had to stop the IV and I wasn't allowed to try any more treatments. Last week I tried an iron pill again, just to see if I would react to it, and I did. However, the doctor feels like we need to try again - my levels are just too low to let them remain this way {which I agree with, but am still feeling nervous}. They will go much slower this time, premedicate me with benedryl and we'll see what happens. Of course, it would have been better to start this, oh, now-ish. Except, I don't have any insurance, and I should have it in October, so, October it is.

I can't lie. I am really upset about this. I don't know why, after starting to get better, they have tanked again. Some ideas are being tossed around, but without insurance there's not much to do at this point. And when I get insurance, the primary objective will be to raise those iron levels. I have about a million questions, but not a lot of answers. Because the blood test results came in after insurance ended, there was no doctor's appointment to discuss it. Just a phone conversation (which was not rushed in any way, but still, I really need an actual appointment). My doctors are being great about all of this though, really working with me and being understanding. I've been consulting Dr. Google, which some say isn't smart, but I'm trying to avoid all the OMG YOU ARE GOING TO DIE IN 21 SECONDS sites it's linking too and instead trying to arm myself with some concrete information, based both on what I'm thinking and words the doctors have used with me. I will definitely be pushing for some testing to see if we can find the root cause of this when I can because I feel like I can't keep doing this yo-yo thing with being okay and not being okay.

I can't lie, I'm extremely frustrated about all of this. I'm also definitely having moody swings and being a big crab at time {side note: did you know that low iron causes crabbiness, moodiness, and irritability?}. And it causes exhaustion. Which I am definitely feeling these days - more so on the hot/humid days. I've been napping almost daily again - which may be the only benefit to having low iron, I can nap and no one can complain about it LOL!

The timing of all of this feels really annoying, since there is this gap in insurance for me. But, I'm still trying to remind myself that it's not all that bad in the grand scheme of things. For now, I'm hoping there's a simple cause to the anemia, that it's not going to be chronic, and that the IV goes much much better this time. I'm still trying to hold on to loving my body, even when it isn't working perfectly. It may not be absorbing iron well, but my arm is getting stronger. And I really do appreciate that very much!

Friday, September 06, 2013

First Descents Part II

Alright, here is part two of my trip! Part one is here if you missed it!

After a morning of sightseeing and a fabulous lunch, it was time to get back on the water. This time we went supping. If you, like me until this happened, don't know what supping is, it's stand up paddle boarding. And it's pretty darn fun! I didn't think I'd be able to stand up, but somehow I managed too and even got a little fancy. Because, why not?

This time on the water I felt calm, quiet, reflective. There was a mean game of sharks and minnows going on, but I just kind of paddled around and soaked up the scenery. It was exactly what I needed. Not that I was trying to be anti-social mind you, I just needed this time to just be, to think. My little brain was firing away - and maybe someday I will write more about all that was jumbling around in my mind- but I was thinking about being stuck. And not wanting to be stuck (which I have talked about before here). And so I paddled around, and took in the sites and just let my brain go until there was a sense of peace there.

The River Can Kill Stay Out
The warning we saw by where we put in!
Which was good. Because Thursday I woke up ready to go. Thursday. The last day on the water. The day we did our graduation rapid. I was feeling peace and anxiety all at once. We entered the water just below the falls we had visited Tuesday. It was both a little frightening and exhilarating all at once. Slightly frightening because there was a big rapid not far from us (not that I could have paddled up the river to get to it!) but also because of the warning sign by where we put in. Mostly though, I just felt ready to go! We had lots of awesome support in the water that day, everyone seemed in a good mood, so it was hard to feel too anxious!

We hit the first rapid and boom. I flipped. And you know what, it was a piece of cake. I did exactly what we practiced (tuck, pulled off the skirt and got out of the kayak) and grabbed onto a kayaker who was there just for that reason and was taken to shore. A. It wasn't bad at all. I pictured it being so much worse. B. I went in the river and didn't get killed. Clearly I am a superhero or something! I was actually relieved that I flipped because I learned it was so bad. This made going through graduation rapid so much easier - I mean the worst that could happen was I'd flip over? Not a problem! I was ready.

Can you see how big that smile is?
So graduation rapid. We did it one-at-a-time. It was awesome. Support staff and those who had already gone waiting at the end, those waiting to go behind you. Lots of cheers from both ends. It was fabulous! There was no predetermined order, just a who wants to go next? I was surprised by how early I went - not first, not second, but near the top. I can't lie, I feel kind of proud of this. I was just going to go for it and not let anything (mostly myself) hold me back! Just awesome.

The fun did not stop here though. We kayaked a bit more and had a lovely lunch. And back into the water. After lunch we had a chance to surf in a rapid. Aside from graduation rapid, this was my favorite part of the day. I did it 5 or 6 times? Each time I flipped over. But I went into the rapid knowing I would probably flip over. I wasn't going to let a small detail like that hold me back! It was so much fun ... I would have done it several more times if you know, the day didn't need to end or anything ;-) 

Practice rolling in a kayak
Rolling, rolling, rolling
After that we practiced rolling some more. Again, I would have kept going if I could have. I loved trying to roll. Aside from graduation rapid and surfing the rapid, this was my favorite part of the day. Okay, okay, pretty much the whole day was my favorite part of the day. It would have been fun to master rolling, but I'm actually okay with not getting it 100%. I made a good faith effort to try it and that felt pretty good.

Overall Thursday was a pretty fabulous day. Which was good, because it was also our last day, and that could have been heavy and sad. And yet it wasn't. It was fun and exciting

Then came Friday morning. I woke up early and did a last walk by myself. Just a last meeting with nature before coming home. The first group of participants left which was sad because it meant the end was really there. All of a sudden the week felt too short, like there wasn't enough time. It really wasn't, but good-byes are always sad.

Some of us had more time though, so we headed back into DC and visited two of the Smithsonian Museums. (which is also where I learned that the husband lost his job). So um, I probably wasn't all the way there at that point. Which is funny only now because I will forever associated the Smithsonian with job loss!

After lunch, I was taken to the train station where it was time to say good-bye to everyone. Again, sad. I was with some really good people on this trip. But I met up with another participant and we headed back out to the botanical garden, which was much needed. I love being in gardens - they're peaceful and beautiful. By this time I knew Eric had accepted another job offer, but I still wasn't feeling calm about everything. We met up with two others from the trip and had a few more minutes to hang out, until, of course, it was time to leave for real.

Again though, having that train ride was good for me. The trip was over, but I had some time before plugging back into the real world. I won't lie, I shed more than one tear on that train ride home. I had just left this amazing week and wasn't sure what I was coming home to - I mean, I was getting to go home to my husband and kids, which is enough, and oh did I miss them so very much. All I wanted was to give everyone some big old bear hugs! But, there was time for some knitting again. I sat in the observation car for quite a few hours and knit away. It was good, but seeing my husband Saturday morning was so much sweeter.

There's a lot I left out - lots of good conversations, lots of connecting with people in ways that I can't always do at home. (Not that my friends and family don't try, but they haven't been there so the conversations around it can sometimes be awkward and not smooth. And some people just don't want to talk about it, the conversation gets shut down - they aren't ready, or something in their personal experience makes it hard. I get that so much so, sometimes I don't want to talk about it either). Lots of stories were shared, not all are my stories to share, and so I hold them close to me. Even some of the moments that are mine to share, I'm holding close for now.

I'm so glad I got to go on this trip. It was incredible in so many ways. I hope to someday go on another First Descents trip, and of course, will encourage anyone else who can go on a trip through FD to do it. It was just amazing, in case you couldn't tell by all that I had to say about it!


For those of you not familiar, First Descents "offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors  a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same.n organization that provides trips like mine to young adult cancer patients." It is an amazing not-for-profit organization that is wonderful. Head on over to their website to learn more about them! 

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

First Descents Part I

taken by my buddy black swan
So I've been home from my trip for over a week now and I miss it (though I do love being with my family)!

It was an amazing week. I did a lot of things I didn't think I'd be able to do. My right arm held up pretty well during the week, which made me very happy !

The actual First Descents Trip was Sunday-Friday, though with my train travel factored in, I was away Saturday - Saturday. While I realize train travel isn't for everyone, it was good for me to have that time on the train! It gave me time (on the way there) to get that space from home. Some of my kiddos were crying as my train left, and oh my goodness, did that tug at my heart so very much! So the train trip there was kind of my, okay, I'm leaving my family, to go on what may be a crazy trip and I just need a bit of breathing space between the two. And also, it was a lot of time to knit, so that's always a win in my book!

Sunday was the first official day of the trip and when I got to meet everyone. I'm not sure if I looked as nervous as I felt, but I was crazy anxious inside. All for nothing though as everyone was awesome (even if they did tease me for the way I say awesome. ;-) What can I say, if you hear me speak you will not doubt I've spent my entire life in the Chicago area!) Also Sunday I had my first taste of the amazing food we had all week long. Oh my, was I spoiled so much this week, especially with the food. Just thinking about it makes me hungry. And, oh yeah, we had to have nicknames. Um, I've never had a nickname really before so I wasn't sure what to pick, but I ended up going with Stitches, which feels so perfect to me.

my kayak for the week
Monday started off in an exciting way. I'll spare you details but will say it involved termites in the room, in my bed, in my roommate's bed and in some of my luggage (side note: this was in no way the fault of First Descents and was handled promptly, but it happened. And I won't ever forget it. LOL!)

 Monday was also the first day on the water. Water. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with water. I like being in the water. I hate getting in the water. And I hate being wet when I'm not in the water. My children can attest to the fact that it takes me a million years to get into the pool. In hindsight, this is probably not the best combination for a white water kayaking trip, but somehow I managed and got all wet. I might have been shivering (naturally, I was cold because I am almost always cold!) but I submerged in the water not once, but several times that day. Including when I practiced exiting the kayak in case I flipped over. I should mention here that the thought of flipping the kayak freaked me out. I was positive I would forget how to get out and die. Because I have anxiety (as if I needed to state that) and can often figure out how things I do will lead to death. But, I did it. And I didn't freak out. And I didn't die. I actually did what I was supposed to and it was fine.

surfing a little rapid in my kayak
Surfing a (small) rapid on the second day. Pic by Val
In addition to kayaking on Monday, we also did some rock skipping, some minor rock climbing and swimming. We had two separate times out in the kayak ... it was a bit chilly for my liking, but it turns out, I really love kayaking and the chilly weather just became a moot point while we were on the water! But seriously, I love kayaking! There was something about being on the water that was just amazing. I'm not the best kayaker, I'm not the fastest, I can't really go in a straight line no matter how hard I try, if I tried hard rapids I would probably kill myself, but I love it! With a lot of sports I feel uncoordinated and awkward. I did have some of that on this trip too, but often times I didn't - like when they would say lean this way, I'd think, well, yeah, that makes sense and is what I want to do (not always though!) and so it was kind of nice!  Paddling was hard, especially on my arm. I really pushed myself to my limits several times - which also felt great! In the moment it was hard and I maybe wanted to cry, but when I made it through, I was like Oh yeah baby! I did it! There is some power in feeling that way! There is a lot of emotion wrapped up in this too.

lake and rocks
the view during lunch on Friday
For the last two years I have viewed my body as broken, as unreliable. I've been disappointed in it and felt betrayed by it. It's not just the cancer itself - though it's a big part. There's this whole push and pull to having had breast cancer that is hard for me to describe. My breasts, which fed each of my babies for over a year, these things which were the only source of food for them for more than a few months, which is really magical to me - that my body was able to grow life and then after giving birth, keep that life fed and healthy! And then in the blink of eye, these breasts need to be removed because they're dangerous and bad. Talk about head spinning and trying to figure out how to link those two, opposite things together. I haven't even really dealt much with that part of it, other than to be jaded I had cancer. Then you get into the post-treatment issues: the fatigue, the anemia, the joint pain, the just downright exhaustion, the mood swings, the periods from hell, the hot flashes, low blood cell counts, lymphedema, pain, the list goes on and on. I've really disliked my body for most of the last two years. I haven't felt powerful or strong, except in a few fleeting moments.

picture by Val
But the whole week of this trip, I just felt strong. My body did some pretty amazing things! This body of mine isn't perfect but you know, it's not down for the count either. I'm going to try to remember this and hold on to this feeling as long as possible. Because this body is the only one I've got. I could be really angry about this and frustrating (which I will probably still do from time to time) or I can accept it - the good and the bad. I think all of this clicked Tuesday, after paddling through a particularly difficult section, one in which I was positive I wouldn't get through, until I was through.

This was followed by starting to learn to roll. Voluntarily. Me. Wanting to be flipped upside down in the water in an effort to learn to roll myself back over. I mean, really, I can say that on this trip I literally learned to roll with it. Alright, I didn't actual figure out how to roll by myself, but I worked hard on it and made some progress!

Great Falls from the Maryland side
Great Falls from the Maryland side
In addition to kayaking and rolling with it, we went and saw Great Falls. We also got to see two of our instructors/leaders kayak on it. Ah. Mazing. I'm not sure that even if I kayaked everyday for the rest of my life, I'd be ready to kayak down the falls, but they are gorgeous and it was pretty fun to watch others do it! And did I mention how gorgeous it was? I do not get enough nature on my own (something I absolutely need to fix!) because nature rocks. And there's something very grounding about being out in it.

Me, in front of the White House
in front of the White House!
Wednesday morning was all about going into DC and sightseeing. We had a lovely tour guide who was a wealth of knowledge. Now, I went to DC as a field trip in 8th grade (a week long field trip LOL) and it was fun, but I didn't appreciate it or listen or pay enough attention. It was so great to get to go back as adult, and to be there with such awesome people. We might have giggled together a lot like we were back in 8th grade, but it was so fun! There was definitely a lightness there (for me) that hasn't been there for far too long. It was great! (Related: I would love to go back to DC for more than a morning. I'd love to take the kids there and really talk about history and politics today)

Phew! I'm leaving off there for now, but will write about the rest of the trip later! Apparently, I have a lot to say about this.


Part II is here!

For those of you not familiar, First Descents "offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors  a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same.n organization that provides trips like mine to young adult cancer patients." It is an amazing not-for-profit organization that is wonderful. Head on over to their website to learn more about them!