Category Archives: Blog Entries

Failure; The Warrior’s Prelude to Success

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Show me a person who thinks that failure isn’t an option and I’ll show you a person who never grows. We are are so terrified of failing and rejection as a society, conditioned to strive for perfection. Yet if we stay within our comfort zone, stick to what we know we won’t fail at, countless opportunities are lost. Opportunities for growth, for new friendships to develop, for romantic relationships to begin. Fear of failure can cause us to miss out on an extraordinary life.

The failures I’ve experienced; heartache, rejection, emotional, physical and financial struggle – they’ve all conditioned me to work harder on myself, to FIGHT for my dreams to become a reality. Failure has forced me to be my own hero, to stand up and take MASSIVE action toward living a life of deep soul fulfillment.

In 2010, as I studied Veterinary Medicine to become a Veterinary Technician, I knew it was what my family wanted. I loved working as a Veterinary Assistant and thought the next logical step was to become a technician. Nearing the end of the program, however, I felt a great discomfort in my heart.

It wasn’t what I wanted.

My soul longed to study writing, to somehow earn a degree in the field that allowed me to use my gifts, to further cultivate an art that had been an early childhood passion of mine. In the meantime, I was having difficulty passing one of my veterinary courses. When I went to speak with an advisor, serendipitously laying there on the office table was a handout about the college’s Creative Writing degree program.

The same day, I brought the handout home and shared the pull I felt to change my major with my mom. Our conversation left me disheartened. “You’ve worked so hard for your degree already honey. I’d hate to see you have to start all over again, you’re almost done,” she told me.  She meant well, as most mothers do, but my heart was heavy with disappointment.

At the same time, I was in the early stages of pregnancy with my daughter. The smell of chemicals in the anatomy lab, not to mention morning sickness and fatigue, caused me to fall behind in the veterinary course I was already having trouble with. It was my second time attempting to pass. If my heart hadn’t been so dead set on becoming a writer, maybe I would have tried harder. I did end up passing the class with a C- but because the program required passing with a C or better, I was forced to leave the program.

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The following semester I changed my major to Creative Writing. It led me to taking an introduction to journalism class on campus. With a “little” encouragement from a wonderfully stubborn teacher, Professor Cooksey, I became Features Editor of the campus paper.

After graduating with a 4.0, I transferred in the Fall to a four-year Journalism program at the local University. The Travel Writing course I took, as part of the program,  allowed me to travel to Sicily for ten days with a dynamic group of classmates – who I’m proud to say I’m still friends with four years later. Studying Journalism helped me obtain a paid internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as a conservation writer, for 14 months.

For one of my journalism classes I had to write a story about sick-time-leave in the workplace. I interviewed my mom’s boss for the story, who told me about a local bar that offered live music. A few months later, I interviewed the bar’s owner to write a feature story for the same journalism class. Because of that interview, I ended up receiving a call from the owner six months later about an available bartending position. I’ve worked there, part-time, for two and half years now.  The stories of incredible souls I’ve met through that job alone would take SEVERAL more blog posts.

Through working at the bar, I discovered “Unbuttoned, An Evening of Spoken Word.” An open mic night hosted at the bar, the first Tuesday of every month, just for writers. This event brought me to speaking with a woman, the first night I performed, who invited me to join a small group of other women writers who meet once a month as well. Remarkably, we’ve been taking spin class together for months and had no idea that either one of us were writers! Because of joining this group, I’ll be performing poetry in April at an annual fundraising event ran by the woman who hosts our women writers group.

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When we surrender to our purpose, miracles happen. Growing up I always heard, “You’ll never make a living as a writer.” Even my professors cautioned, “Until you write what your editor wants you to write, and write it well, you won’t be able to write the stories you really want to and get paid for them.”

We have to expect more from ourselves than anyone else could possibly expect. I’m a single mom of two, working two part-time jobs to support my babes, soon to be three…part-time jobs, not babes.  The gym is my second home, I’m there six days a week. Every day I schedule in time for priming, gratitude meditation, journaling and podcasts or reading. Some days I don’t get to do all of them, but most days I do. If someone like me with a super busy schedule can make time to feed my passion, there should be no doubt in your mind that you can too.

“I don’t have time,” “They say I can’t,” “I don’t have the money,” “I’ve had a hard life.”

Guess what? We ALL have a story.

Every…

single…

one…

of…

us.

Don’t let your story become the excuse that makes you miss out on an extraordinary life. Stop telling yourself you can’t. Stop letting your fear of failure hold you back.

Take back control of your life, take massive action and make shit happen. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s taken years of work behind the scenes to get to where I’m going. Even once I get there, there’s going to be new mountains to climb. New goals to conquer, to create. But I’m not giving up, I’m not backing down. I’m taking what’s mine, and I want you to know YOU CAN TOO. I believe in YOU. Believe in the dream you have for yourself, immerse yourself in whatever knowledge you need to make it happen and then take the initiative to get shit done. YOU’VE GOT THIS!!!

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“Unbuttoning” My Cancerversary

Extending my sincerest gratitude to Julian Parker-Burns Photography for capturing these candid moments of me at Luthier’s Co-Op during “Unbuttoned, An Evening of Spoken Word!”

Writing short stories and creating poetry is something that, throughout most of my life, has helped me come through the darkest of circumstances with a healed heart – however bruised it may be. When I began my cancer journey, it was no different. 

This blog allowed me to connect with all of you, to not feel so alone on the road to wellness. For that, I can never begin to thank you enough  – for reading my posts, for following me on my journey, for sharing your own stories of how mine has impacted you – I am so truly grateful.

After listening to a “School of Greatness” podcast with Lewis Howes and Rupi Kaur, a few months back, something in me shifted. Rupi’s story inspired me. As much as I had spent the past year unearthing my truest self – another part lay hidden, beneath the layers of motherhood, being a woman, working hard and achieving my goals. A part of me lay buried beneath the ash of pain and sorrow, waiting to be brushed off with life anew.

A few days after listening to the podcast, a completely unrelated conversation with a friend led me to discovering a local open mic night. It offered poetry in the beginning and live music afterward, the second Tuesday of every month. It was pretty clear what I had to do.

The first time I sat down to write that poem for open mic night, was beneath the shade of a large maple tree. That is, until a group of ants decided to use me as their personal playground. I quickly moved my blanket out onto the open field. My best friend Emmylou from England was a few hundred feet in back of me, sitting on park grass, journaling away. I remember how warm the sun felt on my back, beating down without a cloud in the sky.

I was nervous about writing again. Would my poetic muse still be there for me after all this time? I had abandoned her when she was always by my side. For a good five to ten minutes, I heard that old “worrier” voice in my head, “You’re not a poet anymore, it’s been too long.” Followed by “You’ll never have time for this, it can’t be done.”

I hadn’t come this far, to give up now. I regrouped, put Lindsey Stirling on in my earbuds, took a breath and that’s when I heard her. My inner Warrior shouting to me, “It can be done, you’ve got this, MAKE the time for it!”

Like a distanced lover, who you never really had a falling out with, but instead just drifted apart from – my poetic muse embraced me with open arms. I did finish my poem that afternoon and read it that night, aloud at that open mic event. It was INCREDIBLE!

Last week I returned for open mic again. The poem I prepared was “A Letter to Cancer,” about both the struggles of treatment and the people who pulled me through. Just minutes before going on stage, it hit me that it was also my three-year Cancerversary. What a beautifully raw, emotionally charged, empowering way to celebrate being three years in remission!

A LETTER TO CANCER

Dear Cancer,

You thought You damned me,

condemned me to death.

But instead…

You breathed into my life

a power I had yet to know.

More fulfilling than the first breath that, 

into newborn lungs, flows. 

Dear Cancer,

You gave me,

bee sting pinches

for port access

just below my collar bone.

Toxins,

every other Tuesday

that took away my glow. 

Nine months of…

treatment

for

every

one

of

those

I

fought

through.

My son lent me his strength.

My daughter guided me with her light.

You thought I’d give up

when I got you.

But I had butterfly kisses

and little league baseball games to go to.

Berry bubblegum serenity

lingering on my little one’s

freshly shampooed hair.

Dear Cancer,

 Chemotherapy caused me pain…

physical pain.

I walked on invisible shards

of broken glass

each time bare toes touched cold concrete.

Put on socks

to go in the basement.

Wore gloves

just to wash clothes.

Dear Cancer,

I had enough!

In spite of You

I didn’t give up.

One week on treatment,

the next at the gym.

Protein shakes,

power lifting,

then chemotherapy again.

Slowly…

5 pounds on.

Steadily,

ten more.

Dear Cancer,

I’ve gained weight now. 

You have…

forged a fighter,

within me.

A survivor, 

an inspirer. 

Dear Cancer,

I dont hate You

anymore.

You thought You damned me,

condemned me to death.

But I see now,

You were never my disease…

You were..

my CURE.

 

Let Challenge Transform You

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PHOTO LEFT: This was me, 3 years ago this May, age 29, three months into chemotherapy…and super blonde! I weighed 119 pounds, my hair was thinning, exhaustion and fatigue were relentless daily adversaries, intent on defeating me.                                                                                          PHOTO RIGHT: Fast forward to today, this photo was taken Feb 2017. I now weigh a HEALTHY 145 pounds (fun-sized at 5’4”), am letting my natural auburn/brunette hair color come shining through and have never felt healthier or stronger!

When I began chemotherapy in 2014, I was told that my treatments would more than likely cause muscle loss in my body. That alone made me want to cry. For ten years I struggled to gain weight, no longer the thick curvy girl I was in my early twenties. I weighed 119 pounds, on some days 117. Bi-weekly doses of toxic chemicals, poisonous to the point of killing my healthy cells too, flooded directly into my blood stream in hopes of destroying the cancer cells.

Being told I may lose even more weight was the turning point for me. I became angry. “NO…FUCKING…WAY!” I told myself. I was determined to let this dis-ease in my body break me open, not break me down.

I joined the gym. I started slow. I could barely do three sets of squats with a ten plate on each side, with a Smith Machine. Now I squat with a free bar, 5 to 7 reps per set with 140 pounds…155 or a little more when I have someone there to spot me.  Miraculously, I gained about 18 pounds or so by the time I finished all of my treatments. Then another 5 or 6 pounds a few months after that. Now at a solid 145 pounds, I have my curves back and then some. My self-confidence and self-love are through the roof!

The thing is, it’s not the results that gave me back my confidence. It’s the promises I’ve kept to myself as a result of deciding to take value in my own health and well being. It’s the self-respect I gained through eating healthier, being active, staying committed to my workouts even when I’m tired, even when it’s easier NOT to go to the gym.

Being diagnosed with cancer saved my life in so many ways. It brought me closer to my family, to my children, guided me to going on a week long women’s retreat where I made lasting friendships and healed the relationship I had with myself. It brought me more compassion and understanding for the human condition. It gave me the gift of loving deeper, laughing louder and knowing just how sacred the precious commodity of time truly is.

It led me to a day where I said “ENOUGH” and joined the gym. That decision alone has led to so many new friendships and experiences. It’s led to fitness becoming part of my children’s lives early on, something I hope stays with them as they grow into adults of their own. It’s led to me becoming an Ambassador for the supplement company I’ve been using for about two years now.

Cancer could have destroyed me. Instead, it acted as a catalyst – transforming my mental, spiritual and physical states beyond the parameters of what I knew to be true. It accelerated my soul’s growth and brought me to a more authentic version of myself.

If there is something in your life – a fear holding you back, don’t let it.  I never would have thought that joining the gym could change my life so dramatically. My life, and who I’ve become, are practically unrecognizable from where I was three years ago. But it’s only because I took that first step. You are always one decision away from a completely different life, YOU have the power to make it a masterpiece!!!

(Shot out to Unico Nutrition!!! Use promo code Amber7 for a 15% discount at http://www.uniconutrition.com/shop/team/Amber.Strong )

You can also follow my new IG Fitness account at Amber.Strong.Journey

THANK YOU so much for reading! 🙂

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Celebrating Two Years Cancer Free

The day before yesterday, 12-12-16, was my Two-Year-Cancerversary. It was also Frank Sinatra’s Birthday. Lucky coincidence? I think not.

It’s been two years since a follow up colonoscopy, post chemo completion, deemed me cancer free. What a feeling 🙂strength

How did I spend the day celebrating? The night before I attended a Reiki share with some fellow Reiki practitioners. It left me feeling super charged and ready to take on the day Monday. My Cancerversary itself was spent outdoors in the snow, acting like a five-year-old with the best teacher: my five-year-old daughter Izzy.

We built a snowman, as she yelled at me to stop singing Frozen’s “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Not sure if it was my singing or her inner demolition queen but our snowman didn’t stay assembled long. The Madd Queen from Alice in Wonderland may as well have shouted “Off with His Head!” Because that’s exactly what my sweet, little Izzy did. Without haste she belly-flopped into the snowman. His mid-section was transformed into a powdery mist, his head airborn as it propelled toward my dog – an innocent bystandard caught in the midst of our snowtastrophe. After we made snow angels, our leggings were so caked over snow clumps we had no choice but to go in the house and change. .

Honoring the parts of my life that mean the most; quality time with my love bug being one of them

Two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to be outside with either one of my children in Winter. The side effects of chemo made it impossible for me to touch anything below room temperature, about 65 degrees. On a cold day, even touching the glass slider that led out to the patio, would cause INTENSE pain in my fingertips.  Nevermind what going outside in the snow would have done to me.

I’m reminded of that every winter. The precious gift of life I have. The gifts of health, of strength, of family and the immense support and love of my friends and family. I’m reminded of what truly matters. The cold reminds me of how far I’ve come, of the mighty giant I battled and won. Winning isn’t everything though. It’s the lessons I took away from that battle more than anything that keep me grounded, that remind me to keep a grateful heart and never forget those who were there for me while I faced my darkest hour.

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What me and Old Blue Eyes have in common…

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This past December, I celebrated my 1 year Cancerversary, one week after my Aunt lost her five year battle with aggressive lung cancer. What happens after you survive cancer and you lose a loved one to the disease? That’s something that I don’t think even the best doctors and nurses in the world can prepare you for. I couldn’t remember being so angry at the Universe when I was going through chemotherapy or even after being diagnosed. But after my Aunt Anne passed away, I wanted to high five the all mighty creator…in the face, possibly with a closed fist. All I could think was, “Why? Why did she have to leave and I’m still here?” I could have screamed it through hot tears at the Universe if I thought someone would answer me.

The night I celebrated my Cancerversary I wore a purple lei, her favorite color, in her honor. What I hadn’t realized until just days before was that my very special day also happened to be the 100th birthday of Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.

I fell in love with Sinatra as a child, first seeing him as a cameo on an episode of an old classic cartoon I was watching with my grandmother. She sat next to me in her rocker, eyebrows wiggling up and down as she said “That’s Frank Sinatra” with a mischievous smile. Luckily my grandfather was asleep in his recliner.

Sharing my special day with Sinatra, made my heart smile. I like to think of it as the Universe’s way of letting me know my grandparents were with me in spirit, proud of all I had overcome.

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As though that in itself weren’t special enough, my 1 year Cancerservary also turned out to be the Day 3 Hawaiian Luau celebration of the Matthew Hussey retreat I was attending in Florida. The energy I experienced that night was like anything I’ve felt. Perhaps, only parallel holding my son and daughter for the first time. Yeah, that good.

The energy between all of us High Value Women attendees and the GTG team was indescribable – 130 plus strangers, united by a desire for change. The kind of change that happens within, on a core level.

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(Left to right: Me, Epic Emma (above), the Lovely Lindsay and the Extraordinary Emmylou)

The luau celebration ended only after half of us (myself and three closest soul sisters; Emmylou, Lindsay and Emma included) jumped into the pool fully clothed with the GTG team…actually it ended once we all jumped back out of the pool and started dancing again!

I’ve used that night as my emotional button for joy at least a million times since returning home. Okay, maybe only half a million…because I love the feeling it gives me to think of those women and the bond we all share.

I can’t think of a better way to have spent my first Cancerversary – on my favorite musician’s 100th birthday, with some of the most inspiring souls I have had the pleasure of becoming friends with.

 

 

#5WordsToCancer #StrongerThanCancerISurvived

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In one of my usual bouts of insomnia tonight (this morning?) I decided to scroll through my Instagram feed before studying for an exam I have in one of my classes.

If you’re reading this then you know I’m clearly hard at work…

blogging…

but I digress.

In the midst of my thumb swiping, I fell down the rabbit hole into the Instagram page for the I Had Cancer website. It’s a great social networking site for those of us affected in some way by cancer; be it survivor, relative of a cancer patient or someone mid-treatment. It’s also a kickass social platform for people to share their angst, victories and everyday battles with cancer. Our cancer journeys don’t end when treatment does. For many of us, it’s a lengthy journey to take back our life and what little control we have over it.

“I Had Cancer” has launched their #5wordstocancer campaign again. It got me thinking… What if cancer was this tangible entity I could write a letter to? What would I say? What would my five words to cancer be?

you

Dear Cancer,

You may not remember me but I will never forget you.

We met, officially, in December of 2013. You’d been watching me for some time, though only you would know how long that was before we became acquainted. Was it months? Perhaps years?

I had an inkling something wasn’t right. I could feel your presence lingering around me, dropping hints, robbing my curves of their soft flesh for years, leaving behind a frame comparable to that of a pre-pubescent boy. 

When you made your debut into my life that summer (2013), you didn’t introduce yourself properly. You told me your name was stress. But what’s in a name right? So I reserved doubt about your true nature only for conversations with overly concerned family members. 

Apparently their concern was warranted.

By the time you revealed your true nature to me, you had already begun infesting my life from behind the scenes. My colon, my rectum, my lymph nodes. You were a literal pain in the ass. I thought major colon resection surgery was enough to evict your sorry ass from occupying my temple. But being the persistent little fucker you are, I was wrong. 

Too many lymph nodes were tainted by your indecency and overexposure to the healthy cells in my body. So you introduced me to Chemotherapy and Steroids. I hated all of you but I never questioned why you (Cancer) chose me. I never wondered why in all the healthy people of the world you wanted me. You’re a selfish prick, why not me?

 Your friend Chemo took my energy. The steroids brought insomnia, and also an unbelievably strong desire to rotate furniture and clean at 2 a.m. (Who would have guessed right?) My sleep patterns are still somewhat fucked.  Being the bully you are, you taunted me by letting my hair thin just enough to make me self-conscious, but not enough for anyone else (but my hairdresser) to notice. Guess what fucker? It grew back in twice as thick and healthier than ever. 

And my curves? They’re back too. In one year, I’ve gained more weight than I could have hoped for. I fit into my jeans in all the right places. My thighs are so sexy they can’t stop touching each other 🙂 I finally feel like the beautiful woman I am. The warrior. The survivor.

I should really be thanking you Cancer.

You brought me closer to my family. You’ve given me new found friendships that continue to change my life for the better. I’m inspiring those around me and taking better care of my mind and body than I ever thought I would. I’ve tapped into an inner strength that I didn’t even know existed. You tried to take it all from me, but in the end Cancer, all you did was give me everything.

I know there’s always that slim possibility we’ll meet again someday. Just know if we do, I’ll be ready for you. You’ve been warned.

Never or truly yours,

Amber

#StrongerThanCancerISurvived

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Rise and Shine Pumpkin!

I’m exhausted. What most (non-cancer having) people don’t know is that the effects of intensive chemotherapy treatments linger on for months and even years after treatment has ended.

I can remember picking up the phone to call my mother to ask her a quick question a few months ago. In the time it took for me to dial her number, let the phone ring and hear her answer…I forgot what I was going to ask her. Once we started talking I finally remembered what the question was. It was like that feeling you get when you walk into a room to get something – but completely forget what it was in the first place until you retrace your steps.

Usually big events or scheduled dates on the calendar I can remember. I also have literally about three calendars I plan everything on but I know my brain cells aren’t quite the same since chemo. Brain game apps are great training exercises and intense reading for work and school helps. But I still often wonder how much longer the effects will linger in my body.

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Fatigue is another thing that comes and goes. Sometimes I have energy for hours on end; cooking and cleaning, doing homework and running errands. Wake up at 4 to work out for two hours and then go home, get myself and my kiddos ready for our day.

Then there’s days like today when I’m wiped out. I have the motivation to do what I need to but lack the energy to follow through. Or maybe I give myself that jumpstart and motivational self talk to get my ass out of bed on time to get moving, but halfway through I lose the energy to get everything done. I also think I try to accomplish way too much in a day since it’s just me who’s here to do it.

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I also wonder if it’s the chemo, being a single mom of two high-energy munchkins or a combo of the two.

Either way, right now I need to get my ass in gear and get these babes of mine up and ready for another busy day.

Happy hump day!!!