Taking Control

Who am I? I’m a daughter….a granddaughter…and a sister. I’m a mentor. I’m a best friend. I’m a fundraiser and event planner. I’m a volunteer. I’m a music lover….an outdoorsman….and a writer. I’m a thrill seeker. I’m an activist. And among many other things, I’m a cancer survivor.
Life has thrown me some curve balls over the past decade. And through those years my weight, mood, and lifestyle has fluctuated with each bump in the road. While I know now that those bumps are what we call “LIFE”, I didn’t always recognize it when faced with troubles. I ate to make myself feel better. I drank to make myself feel even better. I smoked cigarettes. I sat around and watched tv to zone out from life. I wasn’t active, I wasn’t healthy…and sure as can be, I wasn’t motivated to actively CHOOSE change.
But my mother always taught me to be strong…if you fall down seven times, you stand back up eight. So I got through the ups and downs. But all the while struggling with my weight.
Go to the gym! Get active! What easy solutions, right? Well here’s the deal. I never liked the gym. It always felt stuffy to me. I tried gyms  where I lived. But nothing ever stuck. Call it laziness, call it being a scaredy cat. But at nearly 5’11” (with curves), I always felt intimidated by the people working out around me. In my mind, they had the perfect bodies and I would look ridiculous next to them.
It was a horrible attitude to have, and one that quickly changed when one day my friend Tory said “let’s try the YMCA.”
I joined the YMCA on November 1, 2015. I wanted to get fit. To feel better about myself both physically and mentally. It had been a hard year with a lot of life changes – I separated from a man I had been living with and dating for years, I moved from my home to a tiny apartment, and there were a number of changes happening at work. I wanted to feel better about myself…but more importantly, at the time, I just wanted something to focus on.   We made goals, and we stuck to them. I became obsessed with my fit bit, tracking every step, every workout, every bite and every ounce of water. I met with Holly (the trainer) to get a routine that worked for me, quit drinking, and started living my life in a clean and healthy way.
And what would life changes in this day and age be without social media, right? I found myself posting pictures after workouts with hashtags like #icaniwillimust #healthyliving #cleaneating and #loveyourlife. I was hooked! By mid-December I had lost over 15 pounds, was working out 6 days a week, eating healthy, and loving life. In just a few months I had turned around my life with the support of the YMCA – going from party girl, to grown up. I was on top of the world. My friends and family were in awe of my transformation. I couldn’t have been happier.
Until I received a phone call that would change my life forever.
On December 21, I received the call that I had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. The only option was a bilateral mastectomy. I remember being on my way to work when I got the call…pulling over into the gas station by my neighborhood and just crying.
As I’m sure you can imagine, a breast cancer diagnosis is the last thing a 33 year old woman expects to hear. After all, 2016 was supposed to be a new year for me! I had been looking forward to new possibilities and was hopeful for all the good that was waiting for me with the new attitude I had found in my daily gym routine. Needless to say, I was devastated.
Over the course of the next month, I grieved. I cried. I looked at myself in the mirror more times than I can remember – trying to etch in to my brain what this body looked like that I had had such a love hate relationship with for so many years. I was about to lose a part of myself that I would never get back. It was a hard thing to wrap my brain around, as I’m sure you can imagine.
But you know what kept me going that month? My spirit. I figured I could cry and hide under my covers, or I could have my moments…but keep on keeping on – either way, I was going to have to deal with my diagnosis at the end of the day. So why not choose the good attitude? I used that drive I had developed just a few months earlier when I joined the Y to keep myself going. I didn’t stray from my gym routine, I continued to put nothing but good things in my body, and I continued to work towards the best for myself.
I read all I could about my diagnosis, about nutrition, and about health and wellness in general. I got recipes from the board by the water fountains at the Y. I met a few older women at the gym who had overheard me talking to girlfriends on the treadmill about my breast cancer. They stopped me in the hallway or at the front desk to tell me their story. It was encouragement that I so needed. And I will forever be grateful for.
Did you know that 1 in 7 women are affected by breast cancer? That statistic still blows my mind.
I remember going to the therapist the day before my surgery. I cried that I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t ready to lose my breasts. I had been so strong for so long, the pain just took over. I was overwhelmed. Well, you know what I did when I left that appointment? I went to the gym. I cried on the treadmill a little bit, but I got through it. It was my safe place.
On January 28, I underwent a double mastectomy. Recovery took me a mere three weeks. After all, I was healthy in body, mind and spirit. I can stand up here today and tell you that I honestly believe it helped me with the healing process.
During the surgery, the doctors removed five lymph nodes. In February I received the call that my lymph nodes had come back clean. That call meant no chemo! I was thrilled.
As soon as the doctor gave the approval, I was back in the gym. Trainer Holly met with me…I cried a little…and we started to adapt my workout plan to meet my new body needs. It would be 4-5 months before my final reconstruction. I had to make new goals, and figure out how to keep my spirit healthy as my body healed. Holly and the team helped me do all of this with smiles on their faces. She cheered me on when I was lifting 5-pound weights because my upper body strength had weakened so much from the surgery. She smiled weeks later when I reached 40 pounds. And so on.
The team at the Y really were, in fact, my pink angels. My cheering squad. Even if I only had the strength and energy to come in to walk the treadmill for 20 minutes, I always looked forward to seeing Holly’s smile. It was a place I wanted to be.
I received the phone call on June 8 that I was cancer free. It was such a blessing to receive that call. After my final reconstruction, I was once again back in the gym as soon as my doctor gave the OK. Like before, the trainers helped me cut my weights back and come up with a new plan for my still healing body. I started slowly again. Now, more than two months later, I’m excited to share that I am able to jog those 2.5 miles on the treadmill. I’ve participated in classes. I’m back to feeling like ME again.
I still have a long way to go, but I can smile and take pride in seeing how far I have come since that December call.
I learned last week that I will have to undergo one final surgery next month. But this time I know I can do it. And I know I will have the team cheering me on when it’s time to come back to the gym. They will be there once again to guide me as I heal and work to train my body once more.
THANK YOU to each and every one who helped me on my journey this year. It has truly meant the world. You helped me realize that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and that I can do anything I set my mind to. I will never forget that!
One of my favorite quotes is perfect for my topic today. It says “Too often, we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, and an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
It may seem like no big deal to you, that smile…but you never know the affect you might have on another human being. Maybe it’s a woman in your spin class who is going through a divorce….a hyper youth in your after school program excited to share with you what he learned in school that day…a gentleman on the basketball court with his buddies working off stress from a difficult day at the office…or a young woman who’s received a breast cancer diagnosis and is trying to get through the day without breaking down in tears.
You have the power to affect change. And it all starts with that one small step of kindness.  Be grateful to have the opportunity it’s to work for such an amazing organization. One that makes a difference in the lives of so many. Be proud of who you are and what you do every day. And know that you have profoundly helped me find my way.