For the girls

For the girls

The Official Blog of Here for the girls

, May 08, 2018 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features 11 survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Jamie! (If our calendar isn’t hanging on your wall right now, click here to get one.)

Jamie: 37, Diagnosed at 36

2nd degree family history – no known genetic mutation

Jamie is a busy mother of two, military wife, and project manager. Breast cancer is not a project she was ever planning to have to manage, however.  During her last pregnancy, Jamie found a lump in her breast that was tested and judged benign. When she found a second lump while nursing, a biopsy revealed stage II breast cancer. “I thought I was doing everything right: I was an avid runner, I ate a healthful diet, and I breastfed my babies. I thought I was too young for breast cancer,” Jamie says. Her husband was deployed during her diagnosis and part of her treatment, which included chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation. Being diagnosed at a young age was a shock for Jamie, but she’s working on taking life one day at a time, and she’s finding comfort from her Boober! sisters. “These are women who understand the emotional and physical rollercoaster of this disease. They’ve given me hope when I was in the depths of chemotherapy and shown me the light at the end of the treatment tunnel.” Her goal is not just to survive but to thrive. Jamie hopes sharing her journey will help uplift other women personally and professionally.

, April 27, 2018 | More Post by

Each month this year in our Monthly Message email, we’re sharing a writing prompt with our readers. This month’s prompt had to do with spring cleaning – not just your house, but maybe your life, too! We sometimes select an entry to appear here on our blog, and each month we will also draw a random entry to win a $20 Amazon gift card! If you don’t receive our Monthly Message program news email and you’d like to sign up for it, visit our website hereforthegirls.org and scroll to the bottom. Below is one entry we selected from this month.

If you read my previous blog entry about my Bucket List, then you know that my husband and I are setting off to full-time in our tiny RV so naturally, this idea of Spring Cleaning caught my eye because figuring out which items are beloved enough to put into expensive climate controlled storage has been a monumental task. However, the thoughts that provoked me to respond to this prompt weren’t about deciding which household knick-knacks made the cut, but how I really had to confront some of the reasons I have been holding onto “Cancer Crap” in an unopened box moved from house to house for 11 years. Some of the items excavated from that box were protected for positive, sentimental reasons that help me relive encouraging memories even if those were formed during one of my most difficult times.

If the Konmari Method is about keeping things that spark joy, I think keeping my Cancer Crap longer than truly necessary was either some perverse idea opposite of joy or more likely a little magical thinking. I can admit now, that along the way, deep down I was struggling for some sort of control over cancer and that perhaps keeping some of those items would somehow ward off the possibility of recurrence like an amulet of protection. Perhaps I was subconsciously preparing myself for the next wave of bad news. For reasons that I can’t quite articulate, I’ve had periods since my cancer diagnosis where I kept various items due to this vague sense that together they might be a magical talisman to ward off recurrence or a new primary cancer.

Of course intellectually, I know that’s not how biology works, but in some desperate corner of my mind, I clearly believed that I needed this Cancer Crap just in case. At that time, my need to prepare for the “what if” was partially fueled by regret that I hadn’t even thought to worry breast cancer at 33 and even after diagnosis, I surely never thought that genetic test would be positive because it’s so rare. The Konmari Method talks about keeping things that speak to your heart and maybe all that Cancer Crap spoke to a broken part of my heart. The part that said, “nah, I don’t need to go for the mammogram today, I’m sure it’s nothing like you said, I’ll just go next week to confirm.”

I’ve confronted part of this stash once before, but in the last few months, I really had to challenge myself to internally justify exactly why I thought I needed to continue to keep some of these items.

The first time I cleared out some of the bits and pieces of my Cancer Crap was challenging because it was my stash of all the head-coverings and different iterations of post-mastectomy bras, and prosthetics. I could easily articulate why I was holding on to those for a long time because they were expensive and were useful items that might be needed if there were more surgeries or complications or more chemo at any point. I knew the statistics for recurrence for triple negative breast cancer in the first 5 years and I figured it was likely I might really need that stuff again…and soon.

During chemo, I never bought or wore a wig. I know there are so many that look great, but a few friends had told me they seemed itchy and sort of pain to keep up. I just didn’t see myself as ever being comfortable physically or mentally in one as I knew I’d somehow feel like a fraud. I was also just not the in-your-face “I’m bald & so what” person either. So for me, scarves and hats were the happy medium that suited my personality and lifestyle. Just like anything though, one can get carried away and that ended up leading to way too many purchases and an entire box of scarves that coordinated with all sorts of outfits from the everyday, super comfy casual scarf with jeans to the dressy, matching my work outfits scarves.

Initially, I had a lumpectomy but after learning of my BRCA1+ mutation, I had a preventative bilateral mastectomy. I still needed radiation so I was flat and unreconstructed for a long period of time. Later, after my first reconstruction surgery I got a post-operative infection and had to have an expander removed so then I was doing the expansion process on one side and waiting for the other side and repeating the same process separately. Even the different iterations of drain holders and what worked for a 1 drain lumpectomy definitely did not work for a 6 drain reconstruction. Naturally, there was an array products purchased for each of these phases.

One day, I decided that part of my Survivorship Plan to truly recover emotionally from cancer needed to be donating these things to others in need and who were facing my same situation. I also rationalized this by first telling myself that if I had to do chemo again one day, I’d want fresh new scarves anyway and that not everyone has insurance that covered a new set of prosthetics every year and/or new ones when things changed during different surgical issues. While it was an uneasy feeling of tempting fate while parting with the “just in case cancer comes back box,” it was made much easier by having a purpose that benefited others.

Now, several years after that first clearing out, I was still dragging around that other box. The box with those things I just couldn’t seem to part with that somehow I deemed my “Important Cancer Crap.” While facing this box as we prepare for the RV Adventure, there were some items, I had no problem tossing because 11 years later, I couldn’t remember why I had even believed them so sacred or important to keep. Other items were reminders of some of the supportive cancer-friends I met along the way, like personalized, hand crafted name tag from a YSC Conference.  Yes, I ultimately had to let some of those types of possessions go because while the memories are important, I no longer felt the necessity to actually keep them.  More importantly, in finally confronting this box, I wasn’t just getting rid of THINGS, I was releasing the idea that I needed to keep the box to avert disaster. In letting go of that misguided idea, I was able to choose the 3 things that I truly did want to keep and express why.

The first thing I selected to keep was a box within Important Cancer Crap box that is filled with cards which serve as a tangible reminder of how my life genuinely matters to others. There are times in our lives when we think to ourselves that while we know that we a valued team member at work, we don’t think that all of those co-workers really value us as just a person. Seeing the product of people taking their time and money to send me a card when I was sick amassed together is profound for me. It shouldn’t take getting sick to make one know this universal truth, but it’s a powerful visual reminder that my life matters beyond my contributions at work or some other superficial thing I can do. Those cards also serve as a cue to remember learning the lesson that sometimes the people you think are your friends, are either unable or don’t know how to respond or support you during a difficult time, but that others you thought were just acquaintances or co-workers fill in that gap and surprise and support you in ways you couldn’t have previously imagined.

The next items I decided to continue to preserve are the old-school radiology films showing my tumor. At first, I kept those films out of necessity as I visited various doctors for consultation. Since that time of necessity has passed, I then began mulling over this nebulous idea of creating some sort of art from the films. While I’m still not ready to turn that vision into action, I’m not prepared to abandon it either. I know that I simply need more art experience and additional time to allow my ideas for these films to solidify in my mind. Stay tuned for more on this one day!

The last item I kept from the Important Cancer Crap box is the one that’s the hardest to explain…it’s a polka dotted soft knit beanie that I wore for so long and almost 100% of the time I was home, even when I slept because I was cold. I called that beanie my “Chicken Hat” because I read this moving blog post by a woman that so clearly articulated my exact feelings at the time. She eloquently wrote about getting home each day, changing into PJs, removing her wig and donning her favorite softest Chicken Scarf. I think it was called that for some funny reason connected to her love of chickens and hence why she selected fabric with chickens in the pattern.  What she was able to put into words was that in that Chicken Scarf she felt secure and comforted and almost normal after having removed all those “masks” that are occasionally necessary outside our homes. I desperately tried to find that old post, but the details escape me now and I couldn’t find it. Much like a child’s beloved “lovie” my polka-dotted Chicken Hat doesn’t bring me comfort when I hold it now, but I can summon the feelings it did give me and it’s the one remaining piece of Cancer Crap that I will probably never part with not because I might need it again if I get cancer again, nor because it’s a charm to ward off misfortune, and it really doesn’t spark joy, but it sure reminds me of the solace I felt while wearing it and during tough times like cancer treatments, relief is just was welcomed as joy.

-Veronica M.

, April 19, 2018 | More Post by

Each month this year in our Monthly Message email, we’re sharing a writing prompt with our readers. This month’s prompt had to do with spring cleaning – not just your house, but maybe your life, too! We sometimes select an entry to appear here on our blog, and each month we will also draw a random entry to win a $20 Amazon gift card! If you don’t receive our Monthly Message program news email and you’d like to sign up for it, visit our website hereforthegirls.org and scroll to the bottom. Below is one entry we selected from this month.

Let me tell you that cleaning isn’t just for the spring time. In fact, if you unfortunately succumb to pollen allergies, the addition of settled dust and potentially other smelly/icky/old remnants of seasons’ past just kill you off in a snot-nosed, stuffy-headed fashion during the cleaning spell. Not the most sexy of looks for a lady who may gain a feverish itch to rejuvenate and refresh the mind and eyes for the upcoming summer.

My “spring cleaning” of my life actually happened around the start of summer in 2016. I had recently been diagnosed Stage II breast cancer going right into Memorial Day weekend that year. Yay. The stages of grief descended upon me while I first struggled to come to terms with my life direction. What’s going to happen to me? Why are people sending me flowers like condolences? I felt like I was dying. The dark of the nights were sometimes the scariest, with my thoughts plunging to very deep and lonely places. I was alone in my head.

Once I eventually had gone through a barrage of tests, exams, and a litany of appointments with my supposed team of doctors, then focused on my decision to handle my cancer via surgery in July of that year, my mind was calm and resolute. I was able to prioritize my life as it were to continue from The Before. Most of what I thought was important really wasn’t. I gave myself permission to put myself first again and stop living in so many others’ shadows like a butler in the wings. That position was my choice, however, so re-discovering (and discovering for the first time in some ways) myself was eye-opening. I’m freaking awesome…where have I been?!

Returning to work and a regular routine a few weeks after surgery, I continued to make quick evaluations of details and things that I once deemed necessary to complete or fulfill right then. Again, a lot of it wasn’t life-altering enough for me to maintain an image or expectation that my life remained in order and pleasant. I just dealt with cancer and, hopefully, won for life. Dishes will always need to be done. Clothes will always need to be laundered. Groceries will always need to be planned, selected, purchased, stowed and rotated. It can wait a day or even two or three. Or, someone else can do it. I made my strength-training sessions a must. I napped like a badass. I stopped apologizing for any and everything.

– Barbara R.

, April 10, 2018 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features 11 survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Cheri! (If our calendar isn’t hanging on your wall right now, click here to get one.)

Ms. April: Cheri

54, Diagnosed at 50

3rd degree family history – no known genetic mutation

A bizarre dream prompted Cheri to do a breast self-exam. She dreamt she was a chemo patient cheering on a group of sick patients at a local cancer center. As a real-life nurse case manager, she attributed the dream to work stress spilling over into her sleep. But with the dream still on her mind, she examined her breast and surprisingly felt a large lump. The lump turned out to be stage III breast cancer that a year later metastasized. “Only this time I wasn’t a cheerleader,” she says. Cheri admits to hiding herself in a corner during her chemotherapy sessions. “I wouldn’t talk to anyone.” That all changed when she found the Viera, FL, Beyond Boobs! group and discovered the strength that only can be gained by women supporting each other, sharing struggles, and celebrating victories. One of the biggest adjustments has been going from being the constant caregiver—as a mom, grandmother, nurse, and wife —to being the one receiving care. Through it all she’s learned the importance of taking time for herself and has made “fun” a top priority. Now a co-facilitator for the Viera BB! group, she wants to help the young women find joy, even in their darkest times.

, March 09, 2018 | More Post by

Welcome to our series called Co-Founders’ Corner! These are posts by either of our two Here for the Girls Co-Founders, Rene Bowditch or Mary Beth Gibson. Enjoy these (sometimes funny, sometimes serious, always interesting) reflections on life!

Musings About Meaning

Since the beginning of time, humans have contemplated the meaning of life. So picture this – it’s a crisp, cool night, and a group of friends have gathered beside a roaring fire after a long, hard day. Donning animal pelt loin cloths and gnawing on roasted meat, they gaze up at the twinkling stars, and they wonder… so why are we here anyway? We run around chasing wooly mammoths all day long while saber tooth tigers chase after us. What’s the point of it all?

Fast forward through the millennia to the present. So now picture this – it’s a crisp, cool night, and a group of friends are relaxing by the fire pit after a long, hard day. Decked out in animal print LulaRoe leggings and sipping on chardonnay… or something, they gaze at the twinkling stars, and they wonder… so why are we here anyway? We run around chasing after things all day long while our boss/children/spouse chase after us. What’s the point of it all?

Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. As human beings, we are compelled to find meaning in our existence. There are two questions really. The first is very complex – what is the meaning of life – and I have to tell you, I have absolutely no idea and no illusion that I ever will.  That is way over my paygrade. So I will leave it to the people with lots of letters after their names who are way smarter than I am to tackle that one.

That leaves the second question then –  one I that I do have the capacity to tackle – what is the meaning of my life? My time on this earth is limited, so what the heck am I supposed to be doing with my life? Does what I do even matter?

Some of you may have heard of the poem entitled the Dash. The reader’s digest version is this:  On a tombstone is the date of birth and the date of death and in between is a dash. It is what we do with the dash that matters.

When I was younger I felt all this pressure to figure out what to do with my dash.  I was on a mission to solve the mystery of the meaning of life because I couldn’t squander my dash!

I used to think that my life would be meaningful if …

If I had a husband who adored me

If I had children to care for

If I had a successful career

If I had hobbies I enjoyed

If I had tons of friends

If I had lots of stuff like clothes, and jewelry, and a house and car

So many ifs!

I ended up with all of those things– my adoring and adorable husband, three amazing sons, three fulfilling careers so far, a variety of enjoyable hobbies, lots of loving friends – and the stuff – way too much stuff. And I am grateful for all of it. Very grateful.

But is that meaning of my life? To have all of those things? No. I am so much wiser now.

Paradoxically, the harder we try to find the meaning of life, the more it eludes us. It is in experiencing life, reveling in the moments, that the elusive is exposed.

In the grand scheme of things, what I do won’t go down in the history books and survive through the millennia. Nonetheless, what I do matters very much to the people who share this time and place with me.

We do have limited time on this earth, and each of us is on a life journey. We are all learning, growing, struggling, seeking, succeeding, failing, loving, losing. Life is full of beautiful moments, and it is also full of pain. It is the contrast of emotions that allows us to appreciate the richness of our experiences. It is the people in our lives who have the ability to influence, for better or worse, how we feel about our experiences.

The meaning of my life, is to be the person who:

elicits a smile on someone’s face

extends a kindness to a stranger

comforts someone who is scared or lonely

celebrates another’s success

sheds tears with a friend

respects each person’s humanity and the need to be loved

The meaning of my life is to make other people feel meaningful. It is simple. Not easy, but simple. I am not always good at it. It takes intention and effort. But you know what? Every morning when I wake up, I have any number of opportunities to fulfill my meaning.

It’s a work in progress. I am a work in progress. But when all is said and done, when the final date is etched in stone, my dash will have mattered if I have enriched other’s life experiences.

So, if any of you want to explore for themselves, the age-old question “what is the meaning of my life,” I invite you to join me for an evening by my fire pit, gazing at the stars. You don’t have to wear anything animal print, and barbecue mammoth won’t be on the menu, but I can hook you up with a glass of chardonnay… or something.

Mary Beth Gibson

, March 09, 2018 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features 11 survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Miki! (If our calendar isn’t hanging on your wall right now, click here to get one.)

Miki

37, Diagnosed at 35

1st degree family history – no known genetic mutation

Miki has a frisky, diligent Army husband to thank for helping her take action once he felt the small lump she had ignored for several months thinking it just a clogged milk duct caused by nursing her infant son. The daughter of a survivor, Miki soon received her own dreaded diagnosis: triple negative breast cancer, stage II. After chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and reconstruction, Miki has committed to making more time for herself and continuing to nurture the personal growth she experienced during treatment. “I’m a planner—but you sure cannot plan for cancer! I’m working on being more spontaneous in my daily life. The little things in life are so much more important to me now… family dinner, a cuddle on the couch, playing outside with the kids, and regular date nights with my husband.” Along with her husband and her two young sons, her Boober! sisters have played a huge part in her recovery. Miki says, “Beyond Boobs! was a game changer for me. I no longer felt isolated, because even though I had the best support system ever, they couldn’t relate. I felt ‘normal’ and raised up by the love and fierce, fast connections of my BB! sisters.”

, February 13, 2018 | More Post by

At Here for the Girls, we are not an advocacy group — however, we absolutely encourage our supporters and our survivors to equip themselves with knowledge about laws that affect them and to become strong advocates for their own health. In order to help our blog readers do these things, we invited our friends at the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation (VBCF) to share their knowledge and information about their advocacy efforts so far this year with the Virginia General Assembly.

In February 1991, five women met in an MCV support group. Stunned by a lack of research and progress in breast cancer treatment, they planned a Mother’s Day Rally at the Virginia State Capitol to bring attention to this devastating disease. The activist seeds of the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation (VBCF) were sown that day, and VBCF was incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit in October 1992. VBCF seeks to educate Virginians about breast cancer to encourage screenings to improve early diagnosis and treatment outcomes and to advocate for improved public policy to enable Virginians affected by breast cancer to receive the best quality of healthcare while on their treatment journey. We work to provide Virginians with knowledge and a voice when affected by breast cancer.

Each year, VBCF hosts a breast cancer advocacy day at the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond with training for volunteer advocates so that state legislators hear directly from their constituents impacted by breast cancer. At our January 30, 2018 Advocacy Day, our breast cancer advocates met with over 20 state legislators to make their voices heard on the following legislation:

VBCF Priority Legislation 2018:

Increase Access to Healthcare for ALL Virginians – Support for HB 348

Expanding access to health insurance through Medicaid expansion will mean that more women will be able to secure breast cancer screenings and treatment. Every month Virginia loses an average of $142 million in federal funding. Since 2014, the Commonwealth has forfeited over $10 billion in federal funds, which could have been used to help uninsured adults, hospitals, and businesses. Most states have expanded their Medicaid programs. While Virginians suffer without coverage, 31 states and the District of Columbia are providing health insurance to uninsured adults. Those states are seeing significant health and financial benefits.

The Latest: Current debate centers around adding a work requirement for those receiving Medicaid.

Use of Medical Cannabis for Cancer Patients – Support for HB 1251, SB 726.  Based on The National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute information, “the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep.”  HB 1251 and SB 726 provide for a practitioner to issue a written certification for the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil or THC-A for the treatment or to alleviate the symptoms of any diagnosed condition or disease.  These bills in one form or another provide an affirmative defense to prosecution for possession if a person has a valid written certification issued by a practitioner for CBD oil or THC-A oil. Under current law, only the treatment of intractable epilepsy is covered by this defense.

The Latest: As of 2/5/18, both bills were passed by their respective chambers. Since the bills are identical, the steps forward are largely procedural: the bills will “crossover” to the opposite house for a vote, before heading to Governor Northam’s desk for signature. Governor Northam, also a doctor, is already on record in support of “Let Doctors Decide” medical marijuana laws in the Commonwealth. Passage of this historic legislation would make Virginia the first state with a hyper-restrictive program to adopt such a broad expansion.

Improve Protocols for Step Therapy – Support for HB 386, SB 574 to make step therapy better and safer for Virginians – Step therapy occurs when a doctor prescribes a medicine, but the insurance company requires the patient to try alternate, cheaper drugs first, with no clinical justification. Step therapy can delay patient access to medication, causing adverse reactions and allowing their health to deteriorate. HB 386 and SB 574 put an online process in place for health care providers to request overrides for step therapy protocols for patients for whom the insurer- mandated drug is clinically determined to cause adverse health events or be ineffective, as well as those who have already met step therapy requirements and ensures that providers are notified in writing if their request is denied.

The Latest: On 2/1/18, the House Commerce and Labor subcommittee voted to recommend to the full committee that HB 386 should be “passed by indefinitely” meaning the bill is dead for this session. On 2/6/18, the House Finance Committee voted to recommend that SB 574 be “continued until 2019 in Finance” meaning it will be considered during the next General Assembly session.

If you would like to actively support breast cancer legislation at the state and national levels, SIGN UP FOR VBCF’S ADVOCACY ALERTS. These brief email alerts are sent periodically – when your advocacy is needed the most. The Alerts will keep you up to date with the latest breast cancer legislation and provide the tools and information you need to take action.

, February 11, 2018 | More Post by

Our “A Calendar to Live By” features 11 survivors we serve through Here for the Girls programs and their inspiring, uplifting stories about their cancer journey. Get to know this month’s model, Laura! (If our calendar isn’t hanging on your wall right now, click here to get one.

Laura, Ms. February

37, Diagnosed at 34

3rd degree family history – known genetic mutation

In September 2014, Laura awoke one day with an odd feeling. A small voice in her head told her to do a breast self-exam. She raised her right arm and, indeed, felt a small bump. That same inexplicable voice—call it intuition—prompted her to call her doctor. Just one day before her 34th birthday, this loving wife, mother of two and government project assistant found herself in a patient room waiting for her OB/GYN to examine her breasts. Assured it was probably nothing serious, Laura was referred for a mammogram. One week later, she was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. Laura tested positive for the BRCA1 breast cancer gene and learned after her father was tested that he carried the gene also. By the next month, she’d had a bilateral mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and a total hysterectomy. Laura credits her faith, family and friends—and all of her “sisters” at Beyond Boobs!—for helping her through. “I was shocked when I went to my first support group meeting and felt all that love, and then I was blown away when they showed up at the hospital—after just one meeting! The Boobers! were there for me and have been ever since.”

, January 25, 2018 | More Post by

Each month this year in our Monthly Message email, we’re sharing a writing prompt with our readers. This month’s prompt had to do with “bucket lists.” We select a few entries to appear here on our blog, and each month we will also draw a random entry to win a $20 Amazon gift card! If you don’t receive our Monthly Message program news email and you’d like to sign up for it, visit our website hereforthegirls.org and scroll to the bottom. Below is one entry we selected from this month. Note: Veronica’s post originally appeared in her blog, “Solar Gypsy,” and is shared here with her permission.

Not long after I finished surgery, chemo, surgery, radiation, surgery, surgery, post-op infection with emergency surgery, surgery, and final surgery… I was faced with the dreaded “new normal.”

If you are someone who has:

  1. earned your unofficial medical degree in preparation for doctor’s appointments,
  2. saved up for new flooring in your old house, only to find yourself spending all the funds on co-pays for prescription medications that cost more than a used car, but don’t really take away all your symptoms,
  3. learned to recognize a stranger in the mirror who keeps changing, or,
  4. all of the above,

then you probably know that rushing river called the “New Normal” flows throughout everything during all the cancer activities, but gets especially choppy after active treatment ends.

The river New Normal swirls with a mix of fluffy white water that’s fun and comes in the form of relief that the grueling torture (read treatments) are over or that you now have energy for a short vacation, but around the bend, that same fun white water changes quickly and nefariously traps you under the rocks of anxiety when a symptom shows up and you don’t know if it’s a headache because work is driving you crazy or brain mets. Sometimes the river of New Normal is calm and pleasant as you drift along just happy to have hair again and then other times there’s some storm, like laboratory tests, that causes the waters to change when the results are unexpected or slightly abnormal becoming big tree limbs in the water that you have to carefully steer around them as they could be dangerous.

For me, navigating that New Normal river required finding a sweet spot in the boat that’s my life. I had to discover that delicate balance needed to navigate the ever elusive “living for today, while still planning for tomorrow.” After active treatment and surgeries ended I was unsettled and, like many of my cancer friends, I came in and out of a few philosophies to inspire resiliency while picking my way through the rocks, rapids, and eddies of the river of New Normal.  One thing that came into focus for me was the idea of a Bucket List.

People regularly talk about bucket lists and fantasize about trips or purchases and those sorts of things, but when it comes down to it, many people don’t really act on those ideas.  In my opinion, people usually don’t act because of two main reasons: (1) deep down people are scared of change/the unknown and/or trying daring things, and (2) they always think there will be more time. However, if you are like me, and you have really studied to understand those SEER survival statistics and made life decisions based on those at an oncologist’s office, signed a 20+ page release about all the bad things that might happen in the future as a result of the treatments intended to cure you today (hello heart failure and leukemia as not-so-rare side effects), and your on-line support group friends start dying, you really start to re-evaluate the things that truly scare you and the idea that there will always be more time.

While that overall thought process was beginning to dig its way into my brain, like most every young adult facing a serious health condition, I was just trying to keep a normal life together. I never really wrote down my bucket list before cancer because, let’s face it, I was just working, raising my son, getting groceries, going to soccer games, etc.  Having had a child when I was only 20, I also felt that I was a long way off from getting the freedom from day-to-day life to even really daydream about what would go on my bucket list. Was it an interrupted afternoon nap or an epic trip? I think that most of the time one’s current life sort of dictates the dreams one believes are even remotely possible. I mean, if I was only dreaming of a house that stays clean for more than a few hours, then I couldn’t even begin to fathom setting up a loftier goal like trekking in Nepal to Everest Base Camp (yes, that made it to my Bucket List & got checked off!).

However, it was during this period of coming to grips with the fact that I might not really have plenty of time left, but I also still had to keep my normal life in tact that I decided: 1) I really did need to figure out what I really did want and literally write down some bucket list items, and 2) my bucket list didn’t have to be stable, it was fluid and I was allowed to change my mind to remove things that no longer drew me in or add things that were newly discovered passions or ideas.

So I decided to make my Bucket List in PENCIL. To me that felt like a compromise and a way to be able to erase things that might prove too difficult if my health failed and they wouldn’t mock or hurt me. Now, 11+ years post diagnosis, I’ve checked off about half of those original items. I’ve removed some entries over the years that no longer interest me and I’m always adding things that spark my interest.

Meeting and marrying my current husband is one of the best things I’ve checked off my Bucket List although it wasn’t exactly worded that way on the list. Moreover, he’s helped me check off a bunch of things on the list too so he’s had a multiplier effect. A few years ago, I made one of the biggest additions to my list after several daydream-type talks with my husband: to take off work for a year or so after he retires from the Navy to travel the US and Canada in an RV. This item on my Bucket List started as a tiny seed about what it would be like to travel uninterrupted for a while, finally considering that one day I might make it to a real retirement age. That seed flourished into a real item on the list and plan with my husband that we would travel the US and Canada in an RV.  But that nagging river of New Normal coupled with my age and BRCA1+ mutation had me thinking: could we really wait until we were in our 60s? We pondered the pros and cons of all sorts of ways to accomplish this item on my Bucket List. My experience with cancer, helped us land on the decision that we really couldn’t wait for many reasons, but mainly because good health and physical strength was necessary to pursue the work involved and assure the activities we would want to do along the way.

Today, we are now less than 160 days away from departing on this epic Bucket List adventure that has spawned its own sub-bucket list of places to go and things to see and do. That sub-bucket list isn’t written in pencil in my old purple journal, it’s a spreadsheet with links and dates and ideas but still maintains the spirit of being flexible as if it was in pencil.

If you are reading this as a newly diagnosed person or as someone trying to navigate that swirling river of post-cancer life, I hope this gives you some insight into how I approached a Bucket List and you can take time to figure out what works for you and know that your Bucket List can be as rigid or as flexible as you desire. You list crazy adventures like caving (yup, did that too!) or really achievable regular life things that others my take for granted (like seeing my son graduate from high school – yes that was a big item to check off!).

-Veronica M.

, January 22, 2018 | More Post by

Each month this year in our Monthly Message email, we’re sharing a writing prompt with our readers. This month’s prompt had to do with “bucket lists.” We select a few entries to appear here on our blog, and each month we will also draw a random entry to win a $20 Amazon gift card! If you don’t receive our Monthly Message program news email and you’d like to sign up for it, visit our website hereforthegirls.org and scroll to the bottom. Below is one entry we selected from this month.

One thing on my list that I have done is work with children, teaching them to become magnificent people.

As a child I wanted to become a teacher, but life went in another direction. When I graduated high school, I realized I  could not afford to complete college on my own so I joined the military. I told myself and others it was for the opportunity to travel, and for twenty four plus years I traveled the world. It took a very long time to complete a degree that I could use to transition into the civilian world of teaching. I was in my forties when I completed my bachelor’s degree. Traveling the world and learning about different people was a wonderful experience. So much so that I did not really think about teaching for a very long time. As I progressed in my military career I was called upon to transfer my skills to the people who would one day replace me. Yes, I became a teacher/instructor, trainer. For several years before I retired I trained others in military professional development. My students were not children but, most of them were just starting their careers in the military and I was there to help guide them to a successful military career.

When I retired from the Air Force in 2005 I was asked to become a part of  an  amazing program at a then all boys military academy. The school was about to enroll their first ever female cadets and I would be one of the first female Tactical Officers. My job was the care and well-being of each young lady attending this school. It was more than just a job. I was there when they returned from classes in the afternoon and was there for many of their first experiences. First time away from family and friends, first boyfriend, first heart break etc… I was there to teach them how to deal with so much that life would send their way. As a mother of boys I was thankful for the experience since I did not regularly deal with issues that girls of their generations faced. It was a learning experience for all of us.

After two years as a Tactical Officer I decided to take the plunge. A real teacher in a real classroom with students who required more that extremely well timed pep talks. There were lesson plans, text books, homework, and lectures. My first school was in an underserved neighborhood with kids who had to struggle just to get to school in the mornings. They were dedicated and determined and we showed up every day.

I have been in a classroom now for the past nine years.   love teaching. It is what I was born to do. I work with some of the most amazing children in the world.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 my students kept me going. I would not have been able to fight as hard as I did if it were not for the support of my students. They challenge me and I appreciate the people they become each day. Teaching gives me something new to look forward to every day.

I can’t say that I have crossed it off my bucket list. Each new year brings with it a new set of students and a new adventure to continue to fulfill my dreams.

-Hope S.