Selling Suckers for Survivors

My name is Heather Hall.  On July 10, 2010 my family moved to Tennessee from Michigan.  We lived a simple life, so we thought the move wouldn’t be difficult.  Friends came easy.  I had two young children and my favorite pastime was building recipes andspending time with them in the kitchen watching them grow.

However, seven days after I move on July 17th, I was in the ER with severe abdominal pain. Dismissing it as stomach flu, I was shocked when my physician ordered multiple scans of my abdominal area. I sat in the ER for hours – alone.  Then I heard the words “you have cancer.”  

I was 27 years old. I had stage 3 ovarian cancer.  I had no warning.

Several days later, I sit in an oncology office with my husband.  My eyes scanned the room. It was at that moment I realized I was surrounded by women old enough to be my grandmother. Thinking to myself, “I’m not supposed to be here.  I’m only 27.”

Surgery required a full hysterectomy. One tumor was the size of a football and 6 liters of cancerous fluid were removed. Aggressive chemo was to follow.  My chemo took place in a communal setting, again with women well my senior.  One lady didn’t even make it through the first round and had to be transported out of the office to be admitted to the hospital. I never saw her again. Treatments were long. I was there from 8am till 5pm every ThursdayOn the third week another one of the ladies didn’t show up.  I think that was my first reality check of this disease. Another lady didn‘t make it after the 5th week. Now, it was just meI was in a strange town, no friends, no support group and no one to talk to. Due to the chemotherapy complications, I was hospitalized several times.  Again, alone.  However, I kept pushing on and thinking about the day I could return to the simple joys of cooking for my family.

 By February, I had a mammogram and they found a lump in my right breast, which was removed. On April 9th I received the news my cancer had returned in my abdomen. To complicate matters, I now had a bowel obstruction. In addition to surgery, he removed over two feet of my intestines. In June, my gallbladder was removed.  October brought the gift of a double mastectomy. December I was back under the knife for complications in my abdominal area.  I was still 27 years old.

Over the past three years, I have had now 16 surgeries.  Still alone in a strange town, I had lots of down time, lots of alone time, lots of thinking time, but mainly, lots of sad time. Last year, out of depression, anger and loneliness, I began to research cancer websites to find others that were like me. That when I stumbled upon the Women Survivors Alliance and their event the National Women’s Survivors Convention. The best thing about it was this convention? It was for all cancers of women. Maybe it would be there I would find others like me.

 With medical bills mounting, I emailed to see if scholarships were available.  I really wanted to attend this event.  I just had a feeling.Two weeks later, both my Mom and I were granted a scholarship and we made our plans.

 From the moment I stepped on that red carpet with my pajamas I knew that this was where I needed to beMy life changed so much that first day. I met so many inspiring women. I heard so many survivor stories. I was also able to share my story. Just the beauty of everyone coming together in happiness and crying tears of joy, I finally felt at home and at peace. I had finally found friends.  Thisalso led to a dramatic transformation of self. I realized through the empowerment sessions and through the My 2nd Act essays that cancer had indeed drawn a line in the sand of my life and it was up to me to cross that line and help change the world, even in a small way.

The ending of the convention was bittersweet.  I was sad to leave, but excited for my new adventures as a cancer survivor. I had indeed found My 2nd Act.  Four months after the convention, I started a fundraiser for Valentines Day for Vanderbilt’s Children’s HospitalI made 500 lollipops and. 500 frosted sugar cookies and delivered them to the surrounding chemo rooms around Nashville and Smyrna for Valentine’s Day. For Mother’s Day I raised $800 in diapers and baby items to make diaper cakes and delivered them to the Ronald McDonald House in Nashville.

Now it was time to give back to the Women Survivors Alliance who gave so much to me. The last few months, completed my lifelong dream of making a cookbook. However, now my recipes will now be used to fundraise for survivors.  I also created “Suckers for Survivors”. make different flavor lollipops and sell them on the streets of Nashville and surrounding areas.  My goal was toscholarship 20 cancer survivors to go to the National Women’s Survivors Convention to help other cancer survivors feel the same joy I do.

I never knew that survivor sisterhood could be so wonderful. I am truly blessed to now have made so many friends. I am no longer depressed or alone. I am now 30 years old and I have a purpose and I feel complete. My body will never be the same and I know I will live with many struggles to come.  But now I know how to cope and I have a community of supporters from all over the world who are an email or phone call away.  I am just starting My 2nd Act efforts.  But I have a long way to go.  I transformed my mood into my own movement.  I am a better wife, a better mother and a better survivor.  I can’t want to see where this new road of life takes me and I am determined I will enjoy the ride along the way.