, 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.

, January 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, Newsha! (If our calendar isn’t hanging on your wall right now, click here to get one.)

Ms. January: Newsha

41, diagnosed at 39

1st degree family history – no known genetic mutation

Preparing to move your family to a new city is a huge strain. Imagine in the midst of it, finding a lump in your breast, as happened to Newsha! During testing, she wasn’t too worried. “I didn’t think this would turn out to be cancer,” she recalls. So when diagnosed with stage II triple positive breast cancer, she was shocked and terrified but immediately found herself embraced by family and friends, including her mother, a breast cancer survivor. After moving to Richmond with her husband and young daughter, she began treatment—chemotherapy and a double mastectomy with reconstruction—and was embraced by the Beyond Boobs! group there. Newsha, who is from a large Iranian-American family, learned what a generous and thoughtful community she has. “Family, old friends, new neighbors, and my BB! group taught me what is paramount in life: relationships, family and friends. I also learned the valuable lesson of accepting help, which has always been a struggle for me.” Now Newsha is quick to reach out to new members so they too feel welcomed and supported, especially if they’re new to the area. Choosing to be a calendar model was a way for Newsha to challenge herself and celebrate her strength.