Monday, July 27, 2015

The Celebration Vacation

July is our anniversary month, and this year we celebrated 16 years!!  Doesn't seem possible but it's true!  July also marks a new milestone for me as well.  It marks my 1st "Re-birthday."  In fact, tomorrow, July 28th I will celebrate!  One year ago tomorrow I had my stem-cell transplant.  After six days and 14 chemo treatments, they unfroze my cells and gave them back to me.  So, in Cancer-land this is known as a Re-birth day.  We won't be celebrating with cake and ice cream though.  Not because that wouldn't be great, but because yesterday we returned from a nine day celebration!!  We sort of out did ourselves with this celebration vacation.  Six nights and five days at Disney World followed by three days at Cocoa Beach.  It was wonderful.  We had the best time.  It had been twenty years since Jeremy or I had been to Disney World so we were just as excited as the kids!  Oh, speaking of kids, we didn't tell them we were going.  They thought we were just going to the beach.  I can't believe we pulled off the surprise!! 

To watch the surprise click here!
We stayed at Disney's Wilderness Lodge.  What a beautiful resort!!!  We loved everything about it, from the lobby, to the on-site sit down and quick service restaurants, to the rooms, to the pool, to the boat service directly to Magic Kingdom, we loved it all!! 
  Let me just say that planning this vacation I was questioning our sanity, as I did my research and learned that you needed to make dining reservations 180 days in advance, and schedule fast passes for the rides 60 days in advance.  WHAT???  That is not a vacation!!  That is stress and worry!!  I panicked just a little at first, then decided to just pick parks and days and rides.  As far as food we decided to basically wing it as we didn't want to plan a vacation around eating.  So, that's what we did.  I did snag a few dining reservations in the evenings for the next day when I could, but mostly we ate quick service.  Let me add that food at Disney isn't cheap AT ALL.  Absurd the prices they charge.  ABSURD. 
The first day we went to Magic Kingdom and we were able to jump on six rides in under two hours.  We couldn't believe it!  I guess we scheduled that one well!  Day two was Animal Kingdom which we learned you can do in a half day.  Day three was Epcot and we didn't spend an entire day here either.  Day four was Hollywood Studios and again, a half day was enough.  Day five was spent entirely at Magic Kingdom again.  The only day we didn't go to Magic Kingdom was day three, and that day we went back to Animal Kingdom after we left Epcot.  Did I mention we had SO MUCH FUN!!! 

And then there was the beach!  We had a gorgeous condo right on the beach.  While we were there we were fortunate enough to see the rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center and that was really cool.  It was a great way to wind down from the hustle and bustle of Disney. 


I am so blessed to have been able to go on this vacation.  So much has happened in the last year and a half that I really didn't know if we would ever get to do a trip like this, let alone so soon.  Was it expensive?  Yes.  Was it worth it? A million times YES!!  Cancer has taught me that you aren't guaranteed tomorrow so you must GET OUT AND LIVE YOUR LIFE!!!! 
Oh, I almost forgot.  It took us 21 hours to get home. Twenty one hours.  We were literally stranded in traffic for close to seven hours.  Some crazy dude decided to shoot at a State Trooper then run into the woods, causing the police to set up a perimeter and close the interstate completely.  So there was that. We finally made it home at 5:30am yesterday.  What a way to make an already unforgettable trip even more unforgettable!!! 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Best Week Ever

So pretty much everyone knows by now that two weeks ago I competed in my very first Spartan Race.  I'm told that the course I ran was one of the toughest Sprint courses ever, so I feel really good about how I finished. 
I can't really describe how it felt to cross that finish line.  I was exhausted and totally pumped at the same time.  Several times while out on the course I would comment about how I didn't understand how people were still running up those muddy hills, and my brother would say, "Michelle, you are doing great.  And besides, I bet they didn't just beat cancer."  Every time he said that, I just kept on moving forward.  I never wanted cancer to be an excuse and I wasn't going to start then.  Being able to FINALLY run that race was such a huge thing for me, and being able to do it less than a year after my stem-cell transplant was actually pretty amazing.  In August I promise you I wasn't thinking that it would happen that soon, if ever.  I've been so proud of myself for finishing that race, not only because of the physical challenge I placed before myself but also the mental challenge.  Cancer puts you in a different place mentally, and it isn't easy to shift away from that place.  Cancer makes you think you can't.  It makes you think you will never be strong enough.  It makes you think you are crazy for thinking you should even try.  I have found that if I set a goal and focus on that goal, the crazy cancer thoughts don't get a chance to mess with me.  I become so focused on reaching my goal that I think of what I HAVE to do to reach it and all of my energy flows that direction and excuses no longer exist.  Excuses are for people who need them and I sure as hell don't!!
What most of you don't know is that last week (May 24 - May 30) I went on a trip all by myself.  I'm not sure I can explain how incredibly amazing this trip was, or how it has impacted my life.  What I can explain is that there is this INCREDIBLE organization called First Descents, and thru this program I have discovered myself again.  One thing that Cancer does is strip of your true self.  Only a tiny piece of the real you remains, and the rest is a hot mess that doesn't really know what, who, when, where, or how.  The rest is confused and struggles every single day, all while trying to put on a fa├žade that everything is fine.  You know how you want to act, what you want to do, what you want to feel, but for some reason you just can't.  It is so frustrating to feel that way, to feel that a part of you is missing and you have no idea how to find it or get it back.  Just because you beat cancer doesn't mean that everything goes right back to normal.  That doesn't happen.  What does happen is you beat cancer and everything else is all messed up.  First Descents recognizes this problem and has put together an outstanding program to address it. 
Sunday (5/24) I flew from Evansville to Atlanta.  All I knew was that I was meeting a group of people there and that we would load up in a van and go on a three hour road trip to our cabin in the Smoky Mountains via Bryson City, NC.  It's kind of a weird thing to do something like that but I was confident everything would be fine.  And, as I stood next to the IHOP Express by myself in the busiest airport in the world, a girl with short dark hair approached me and asked if I was looking for the First Descents group.  I followed her to where she was sitting with a few other people.  We all introduced ourselves and began conversing about where we were from and about my Spartan Race (of course I wore my Finisher shirt!).  It was then that I knew it really was going to be fine.  A short time later our ride arrived and away we went.  We arrived at our cabin about 5:30ish and wow it was nice! 

Something super cool about this program is that they hire a chef to cook breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for us all week long.  And not just any chef.  Our chef's name was "Lambchop" and holy cow she was amazing.  She was a vegan so I struggled with the no meat thing but her food was so so so good it totally made up for it!!  The goal of the program is to promote health so it only makes sense that our food would be directed at keeping us as healthy as possible.  Gluten free, non-gmo, no dairy.  Pretty much how I already eat with the exception of no meat.  With my workouts I eat LOTS of protein throughout the day so that was hard.  One night we did have hamburgers and I was ready to fight the boys for them!  Lambchop really did knock it out of the park.  I wish I would have thought to take pictures of every meal but I didn't.  My favorite thing was hands down her sweet potato hummus.  OMG it was wonderful.  And the kale and sweet potato hash was equally wonderful.  And the shitake bacon...oh my the shitake bacon.  I could go on and on but instead here are some photos.


So yeah, we ate really well!!!  Not sure if you noticed or not but I said our chef's name was Lambchop.  Obviously not her real name but that's the whole point.  We all received nicknames the first night.  If we had a name we wanted to be called then great, if not they came up with one for us.  My name for the week was...wait for it...Five-0.  That's right.  Like the police.  As soon as it was out that I was a probation officer that was the name I got.  So, all week long when someone wanted to talk to me they didn't say "Hey Michelle."  Nope.  They said, "Hey Five-0."  It was the coolest thing ever!!  I really miss hearing that.  My group consisted of myself, Moxie, Hot Chocolate, E.T., Smartsy, Betty Boop, Pina, Jupiter, Stotle, and Hustler (Hustler started out as Casanova but I quickly changed that for him).  Our camp leaders were Patch and Quickie.  They were so full of energy and so much fun!  You couldn't help but be happy when they were around!
"Quickie" This gal is pretty great!

"Patch"  Easily could play Buddy The Elf.  Acts just like him!
We had two camp "moms" named Postal and Pemberle.  They were volunteers who had attended an FD trip themselves.  Then there was our medical volunteer named Big Toe.  And I can't forget to mention Smiley our volunteer photographer.  She was great.  Our kayak guides were absolutely the best.  Big Poppa and Plan A were so kind and understanding.  They never pushed us to do something we weren't comfortable doing, but at the same time made us feel like we could do anything.  Truly great people those two!

Big Toe.  Big Toe was hilarious.  To his right is Pina and to his left is Hashtag our Sous Chef.

Big Poppa and Plan A.  Two great souls. 
On Monday we had our first go at kayaking.  I was so nervous.  I had never done anything even remotely close to kayaking before so this was a completely new thing for me.  They took us to Lake Fontana for the day.  They taught us all the to put on our gear, how to hold the paddle, how to paddle, how to edge, how to flip, and how to enjoy ourselves.  That first day I wasn't so sure I was going to like this trip.  Kayaking on the lake was hard and since I had no clue what I was doing I thought it was going to suck the whole week.  Thank goodness I was wrong! 
Tuesday we were ready for our first river, The Little Tennessee.  This river was just beautiful.  I discovered that it is easier to kayak on the river, at least for me.  The river pushes you along like a conveyer belt so it does some of the work for you which made it easier.  This river had some rapids and seeing that for the first time was a little intimidating, but I made it through without flipping over!  And we learned how to "eddy."  That was harder than I thought it should have been.  I was so at peace on this river.  It had several calm stretches and I would just let my kayak do its thing and I would just look around and enjoy the moment.  The mountains surrounding us, the flowers on the river bank, the quiet.  I loved everything about it.  I wanted to just stay right there! 
Wednesday was a rest day.  No kayaking.  We did go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River.  This was also a first for me and I enjoyed it!  The water was COLD and that was the least enjoyable part.  We hung out at the Nantahala Outdoor Center for a bit then went back to the cabins for the rest of the day.  We were all so tired it was a needed rest.
Thursday we kayaked the Tuckasegee River.  This was fun!  It was a little more challenging than the Little TN but still not too bad.  I managed to somehow stay upright all day again which was surprising.  Coolest part of this day?  Part of the movie "The Fugitive" was filmed here.  The part of the movie where the train crashes is the part that was filmed there and the train is still sitting beside the river!  So that was cool to see.  Second coolest thing?  Seeing a bald eagle fly over not once but twice.  Nature is so awesome. 
Friday.  Oh blessed Friday.  Graduation day.  The day we kayaked the Nantahala.  This river is a fast mover and you have to be focused for sure.  Not a lot of down time on this one, but this was by far the most fun I had all week!  I think we went five miles.  Not sure how far we had gone but at one point Quickie decided to eddy up and asked Hustler if he wanted to launch off of this rock that was probably 100 feet above the water (Ok.  It wasn't really that tall but sure felt like it!).  Of course he did it, and when he was done she asked the rest of us if we wanted to, and once E.T. said she would do it we all decided to do it.  Damn that was fun!!  I just wish I had a picture of it!  Hustler has video of us all on his Go Pro but I don't have it yet.  I still can't believe I let her push me off that rock.  We officially graduated once we went through what they call the "bump."  After that we could be done, or continue on down the falls.  We got out of our boats and walked over to the spot we could take a good look at the falls, which are a class III rapid.  After some deep thought, I decided I was going to do it.  What helped me make that decision to take this "challenge by choice" was something Jupiter said at campfire a few nights before.  He made a statement about what is the worst thing that could happen.  My answer for this challenge was that I would flip over, and if that was the worst thing then why not?  I knew I would regret not trying it so off I went.  Was I nervous??  Hell yes I was nervous.  And I was questioning my life decisions at that point.  But I did it anyway.  The water moved me so fast I was at the falls before I knew it.  I just looked at Big Poppa and he was saying "go left go left" so I went left and just rode it down.  OMG talk about an adrenaline rush!!!  Did I make it?  Absolutely I did!  Did I tip over?  Hell no I didn't!!! 
I LOVE this picture.  Arms raised above my head in victory even though I haven't made it all the way out of the rapid and the water is covering everything except my head.  It symbolizes so many things for me.  Mainly life with cancer.  Even though I was struggling and just keeping my head above water, I was doing it.  It was hard and I wasn't sure if I could do it, but I did.  I was doing what I had to do to win.  Even when it felt like I was drowning and couldn't possibly make it out alive I did.  I didn't let the water surrounding me hold me down or keep me from pushing forward.  I didn't let it stop me from trying or force me to quit.  I continue forward with my arms raised in victory, just like I did on Friday. 
  I could go on and on and on about the week I had, but I will stop now.  I just hope the message is clear that First Descents is where it's at.  This organization is literally changing lives and helping fill a void that no other organization that I know of is currently doing.  They have other programs as well and I will blog about them in the future.  THANK YOU FIRST DESCENTS FOR BRINGING ME BACK TO LIFE!!!!