Tag Archives: Gratitude

Muscle and Fitness HERS Magazine, 2021 Cover Competition

www.mshealthandfitness.com/2021/amber-rae

{PLEASE CLICK THE LINK ABOVE TO VOTE!}

ONLY 4 DAYS LEFT TO HELP ME SECURE THE #1 SPOT IN MY GROUP!

PLEASE CLICK THE LINK ABOVE TO VOTE!

Although I’ve been in the running for the title of Ms Health & Fitness 2021 (through Muscle & Fitness HERS magazine) for nearly four weeks now, my health and fitness journey began in May of 2014. Through the outpouring of love, support, WARRIOR VOTES and FREE daily FB votes; I’ve advanced through the top 15 elimination round, the top ten and now I’m in the top five for my group! Shit gets real in the next four days! In order to advance to the SEMIFINALS, I must secure 1st place in my group by July 15th.

Entering this competition has changed my life so much in the past month! I’ve completely detached myself from the outcome of winning and focused more on the momentum it’s helped me build in the process. I’ve stepped up my game to the next level with my workouts, joined the Warrior Babe fam to help me get my macros/calories on point again. I’m BEYOND GRATEFUL for the tremendous amount of love and support from my children, my partner, friends, family and my iron brothers and sisters. This competition has instilled an extraordinary drive within me to grow my whole body wellness coaching business/career to the next level.

For all of this, and even more, I am SO THANKFUL to be part of such an incredible opportunity. In order to understand my “WHY” for signing on to compete, it’s important to understand a bit of my back story…

Seven and a half years ago, a Stage III Colon Cancer diagnosis launched me into a lifelong love of health & fitness. It was transformative as a catalyst; to either make me stronger, healthier and better or break me down beyond retrievable repair.

Prior to my first chemo treatment in February of 2014, I was severely underweight, 118 pounds and 6 months away from terminal cancer. It’s no exaggeration that death was knocking at my door. Images of a skeletal ghost, with a white-knuckle-grip grasped firmly to the thread of my life come to mind when I sit in the truth of how close I came to dying. Life as I knew it, hanging in the balance on one end of the thread. Everything I loved, at any given moment, could have come crashing down. All death had to do was let the thread go.

I remember sitting there at one of my first pre-chemo check ins with the oncology nurse counselor. There was a TON of paperwork. Signatures for health insurance coverage and treatment authorization forms. Questions about having a health care proxy, thinking about what would happen to my children if I died. Who would look after them? No one would ever love them the way I could. All the moments we would never have together if my body and Spirit were too weak to battle cancer.

It was all a bit of blur looking back. Yet I can still feel the pit in my stomach, the wave of emotion in my chest as I sat there all those years ago with that nurse. Signing forms that said I agreed to pump chemicals into my body, twelve rounds of them, for at least six months. Maybe longer if my body reacted negatively to my treatments.

When the nurse explained how chemo works, that it could cause me to lose more weight and muscle mass, I knew I HAD to do something. Her words stirred something inside me that day. Something that, to this day, brings me to tears to think about. Dominic. Izabella. My children were only five-and-a- half and two-and-a-half years old. I REFUSED to leave them behind. They needed me as much as I needed them and it was that very connection to my children that saved my life.

The first gym I walked into scared the shiznit out of me! It was INTIMIDATING AF. There were big muscle “meatheads” working out, sweating, grunting. With the exception of working out with one of my girlfriends (one time) at her college gym about ten years prior, I had NEVER set foot in a gym. Or worked out in one. Or lifted weights. After taking a tour of that gym, I headed straight to the nearest planet fitness.

“The expert at anything was once a beginner.” ~Helen Hayes

When I walked in to the Planet Fitness down the street from the “super scary” gym full of “meatheads”, I was so flustered I walked in through the “EXIT” door. At least I tried to. The door got stuck and I was so embarrassed to see two staff members laughing at me from behind the front desk. I immediately turned around, got in my car and drove to the NEXT closest Planet Fitness. So trust me when I say, “If I can join a gym and level up my fitness, YOU CAN TOO!”

When I began exercising, I started SLOW with LIGHT WEIGHT and a PERSONAL TRAINER. We kept track of EVERY workout. I could barely do squats on a Smith Machine with ten pound plates on each side. Smith Machine squats tend to be MUCH easier than squats with an olympic bar because the Smith Machine is already stabilized (and locked into the machine so it only does up or down). Even so, I could BARELY complete eight repetitions with hardly any weight on the machine. My legs (now) are probably the strongest, most solid and highly developed muscle group on my body.

Since being diagnosed with cancer; I’ve made it my mission to advocate and help educate as many people as I can, as often as I can, about Colon Cancer and living healthier. I’ve become a Reiki Master, a personal trainer and a life coach. It is my own personal belief that the road to wellness entails all three; mind, body and Spirit. Each pillar cannot exist without supporting the other. If it does, a person’s foundation of health will be as rocky and unstable as a temple built with rubble.

The body may be strong but if the mind or emotions are weak, strength only goes so far. Eventually a person will train less or put in less work and not be motivated. If the mind is strong but the body is not, you can tap into your emotions and channel your “WHY” to get there. All three go hand in hand. All three, when fine tuned, work together like a well oiled machine to produce the most magnificent of transformations. On all levels.

One thing I know for certain is this. No matter the outcome of this competition, now is my time to SHINE. Now is my time to take what I’ve learned, experienced and grown through to help others level up their lives too. It wasn’t an overnight process but the time it’s taken to get HERE has ALL been worth it. Every experience has given me gratitude for the present. Appreciation for the good times. Compassion for those currently going though their own version of what struggle looks like. I’m here for YOU. I see YOU. I witness YOU. I’m here to help.

THIS is my mission. THIS is my passion. THIS is my WHY. Winning this competition would help take my career to the next level much faster. Whether it’s my time to win this competition or someone else’s, THAT is all part of God’s plan and I trust in that process wholeheartedly. No matter what happens though, I’ve committed to taking my desire for change and helping others to the next level through whole body wellness.

Kindness is Magic

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Each of us has a story to tell. Each of us has something we are dealing with on a daily basis. That something can be a hindrance or an opportunity to  strengthen the very core of our being.

However, I don’t feel “negative” experiences give us the right to walk around being a grumpy pants McGee, taking out our frustrations on the nearest passer by or stranger we come across. Kindness is magic and contagious AF.

This morning after the gym, I nearly went straight home – forgetting to stop and fill my vehicle’s gas tank.

Quickly, I pulled into the nearest parking lot, turned around and made my way to the nearest gas station.

There was an elderly gentleman in front of me, who seemed to be moving slowly, puttering about from aisle to aisle. I hadn’t noticed him being harsh with the store clerk or raising his voice. Just that he was taking his time with his transaction.

Once he left his place in line, I moved up to the counter to cash out. The zipper to my wallet got stuck on the cash inside my wallet. It wasn’t budging. I tugged, yanked, pulled and even tried putting my pinky in the wallet to stuff the money back in. Nothing worked.

Just then the zipper went flying off my wallet and across the floor like a slingshot. I couldn’t stop laughing while I struggled with the wallet.

The clerk began laughing, and said to me that I was in a bunch better mood than the gentleman who came to the counter before me. When I asked the clerk what happened, he told me the gentleman had been yelling at him the entire time and was clearly in a very grumpy mood.

We laughed a little more and he helped me get the wallet open (finally!) and it felt amazing having cheered up the clerk who was laughing and smiling by the time I left the store.

There were so many possible outcomes for the situation. The store clerk could’ve been rude to me and my mood could have been slightly dampened. I could’ve been frustrated and angry because of my wallet and taken it out on the clerk.

But I wanted to leave that store clerk in better sorts than I had found him. I wanted to own my authenticity and happiness and the joy I felt about accomplishing another early morning workout.

Who knows what the elderly gentleman could’ve been going through? We honestly don’t know why certain strangers we meet are “grumpy” or what they’re going through on a personal level. It’s so easy to judge others, but if we approach the situations life throws at us with love and compassion and on our own authentic truth, we have the ability to change someone else’s life. Or at least make their day a bit better.

One act of kindness each day, is the foundation of creating lasting  change for the better. It has a ripple effect, exponential in form, that creates a kind of magic in the world. Couldn’t we all use a bit more magic in our lives?

 

Book Launch Par-yay!

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This past Sunday was the first official book launch party for my new book; The Gift of Cancer: A journey of transformation through faith, family and gratitude.

During the course of my initial diagnosis, treatment and surgeries – I kept a personal journal, kept friends and family updated on Facebook and published blog posts here on WordPress. I’ve spent the last four months compiling all of those entries into a 200-page book. (now, proudly available on Amazon.com)

Writing this book was healing on so many levels. Being surrounded by friends and family while sharing some of the most intimate, vulnerable moments of my life was beyond therapeutic. I know I’m one of the “lucky” ones, I was given a second chance at life. The opportunity to be here today, alive, to write this book is a blessing in itself.

My hope is it will inspire those going through it to keep fighting. Or that reading this book will help oncologists and doctors practice more compassion with their patients, understanding we are all so very different. I believe anyone serving as support to a cancer patient or cancer family can benefit from reading this book. While every cancer is different and every person a unique individual; there are certain things we all battle when facing this disease. The Gift of Cancer offers insight into that sacred, vulnerable world.

 

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.

 

 

Unwrapping the “Mummy”

Photo on 7-31-15 at 9.16 PM Friday night. Two days after my chemotherapy port-a-cath removal. It was time to remove the bandage covering the suture site where my port had once been. My surgeon warned me about possible bruising but I didn’t know what to expect when the bandage came off.

Slowly I began peeling back the thin, clear layer of water-resistant tape that covered the bandage. A corner here, the sides there until finally I could remove the bandage altogether, exposing the steri-strips protecting the suture site.

One layer of dissolvable sutures beneath the skin, one layer of sutures in the outter layer of skin. I thought back to when my surgeon was stitching me up. I tried to look away but could see him threading the skin in the reflection of the nurses’s glasses. I could feel the taught tugging of my skin as he brought the layers closer together until the hole was whole again.

But there wasn’t any bruising.

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Not for the faint of heart, a close up of my former port site. Sutures and all.

Maybe it was the self-Reiki I had given to the area, on and off, the day of my procedure. Maybe it was a combination of that, having an Angel or two on my shoulder and being a quick healer.

The unveiling of my former port site was odd. Not seeing that triangular shape beneath my skin or feeling the three, tiny, silicon dots in the center of it – the marker that guided my nurses time and time again where the chemo needle needed to go. Strange.

Just my skin. My flat, sutured, sore skin.

 

 

Arrivederci!

There’s something about the giant, sterile, surgical light that hovers above you in the surgery room. Whether it’s minor surgery or major, it doesn’t matter. Seeing that lamp sent me into a panic.

I was fine when I checked in to have my port removed. Fine sitting there as the nurse came and checked my vital signs and then escorted me into the room where minor surgery is performed. My surgeon, “Dr. D”, went about preparing what he needed to open me up and literally cut out my chemotherapy port-a-cath.

Immediately after my port was removed. Trying to fight back tears of joy long enough to take a "post port removal" selfie :)
Immediately after my port was removed. Trying to fight back tears of joy long enough to take a “post port removal” selfie 🙂

I started breathing heavy, hot tears flushed down my face…and I had just laid back onto the surgical bed. The nurse took my hand as Dr. D started prepping my skin, adding the dressing to the area that isolated the spot where he needed to remove good old “Penny”. He hadn’t even applied local anesthetic and I was quickly losing my composure.

Thank goodness my surgeon is the smartass that he is. The first needle was nothing. I’ve had blood draws taken that were far worse. I didn’t know he was going to inject about four or five more (possibly more, I lost count after the fourth injection).

It felt like someone was digging around, underneath my skin, with a miniature hot poker. Dr. D says to the nurse “Would you call that a whine or a whimper?” And when I wasn’t laughing he told me it was time to start manning up! Believe it or not, his sarcasm put me at ease.

Dr. D isn’t the type of doctor to coddle his patients. Tough love maybe but it’s the kind of attitude I grew up with and the reason why I probably got through my cancer treatments with such an optimistic attitude. It’s the “suck it up buttercup” mentality that allowed me to say “Okay, I’ve got cancer, what do I have to do to kick its’ ass ad move on with my life?”

He got me to calm down, that and a combination of the local anesthetic kicking in. I started taking slow, deep breaths and made small talk about my munchkins with the nurse.

I was done about ten minutes after Dr. D opened up the port site.

245b6a3786bfe4aaf8a939164f3d1bf5On the way out, the nurse asked me if I wanted to give a single finger salute. I said “What? No, I really like Dr. D” After bursting into laughter, she said “I didn’t mean to Dr. D, I was talking about your port!”

I looked over toward my surgeon and saw it there on the counter next to him. In a little plastic, specimen collection jar was my chemotherapy port.

That part of my life, for the most part,is over now.

A new journey begins…

And for my next trick…

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This is it! The last photograph that will ever be taken with my port in the photo 🙂

And for my next trick ladies and gentleman…I shall make this port disappear!

In about ten minutes I’m heading to the hospital for a quick day procedure/minor surgery. Today my chemotherapy port-a-cath is being removed!!!

Getting it removed is much easier than having it put in place, according to my surgeon. When I called to ask the receptionist if I would need someone to drive me to and from the hospital, she replied “It’s just like going to the dentist and getting novocaine.” They numb the area, make an incision, remove the port and glue me back together. Not quite like going to the dentist but I understand what she meant.

No more port, no more chemotherapy.

When I dropped my four-year-old daughter off at preschool this morning I told her that when I picked her up later, my port would be all gone. We had this conversation yesterday as well but I wanted to reiterate it to her again just to be safe. She smiled at me when I told her this morning. Then she brushed my hair aside and moved my sleeve to the side of my arm, exposing the port. She looked at it for a second then looked back at me, smiled and gave me the biggest hug. Her way of saying “be brave Mommy!” after leaving a kiss on my cheek and telling me she loved me.

I’m ready.

If I’m Bloggin’ – I’m Happy!

Or in my case tonight, by my giant nine-year-old
Or the “almost as tall as me” nine-year-old

It feels like I’m on holiday right now; even though my nine-year-old is restlessly karate chopping me in his sleep while his sister strategically positioned her feet  near my head. I’m happy. They’re both sleeping and I finally have a moment to breathe, relax and blog.

I’ve been craving to write a good blog entry for weeks! About anything, everything and nothing at all. So much is happening everyday. If I don’t take time to write it down, type it out; I feel like these moments will be lost forever.

85bfcd7befabe015abeb3a1570349c48 - Version 2In January I stood in the middle of seated room of 300, in New York City, to have a fifteen minute conversation – live, in front of everyone, while being video recorded – with one of my everyday heroes; dating and life coach Matthew Hussey. Hussey told me point blank if I continue to sacrifice my love life for the sake of my children’s happiness I’m going to “fuck them up” and cause more damage than good in the long run. His rationale was that they would see their “mum” putting them first and never putting my own romantic happiness in the forefront. Leading my kiddos to believe it was what they were supposed to do as adults. Food for thought. Thank you for that Mr. Hussey, you’ve given me plenty to think about.

Two weeks ago, I traveled from Virginia to Maryland to Massachusetts in one day…by car…toting my children along for most of the journey. One of my best friends crossed the stage at her college graduation in Virginia Beach. I was not only there for moral support but to embarrass the bajeezus out of her by screaming out “I LOVE YOU KRISTIN!” in a very crowded, semi-quiet, stadium size, campus auditorium. Because hellerrrr, that’s what best friends do woman!

It was no small feat for a single mother of two to graduate with honors. I’m still so proud of you Snookum Snookums! When you’ve been friends as long as we have, and know as much as we know about each-other, you come up with silly nick names. It’s out of love, don’t judge.

Mama's first Sox game at Fenway, woot woot! #SOXNATION
Mama’s first Sox game at Fenway, woot woot! #SOXNATION

In April, I finally attended my first Sox game (SOX NATION!) and with the only person in this world I could imagine being there with; my son. I also started a kickass internship with quite possibly some of the most intelligent, interesting and charismatic people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with – acting as an intern and conservation writer for the US Fish and Wildlife Service WordPress blog.

This past Saturday, I pet a Madagascar hissing cockroach. Or as my threenager (about to be four) put it, a “kissing hockroach.” My son rocked it out at both of his soccer games this weekend. My daughter painted her little heart out designing faerie houses for our garden.

Some of our faerie garden supplies, my daughter walked off with the rest. And that glue...definitely got returned. Warning labels about hazardous fumes should probably be written on the FRONT of the bottle somewhere...not on back behind the packaging.
Some of our faerie garden supplies, my daughter walked off with the rest. And that glue…definitely got returned. Warning labels about hazardous fumes should probably be written on the FRONT of the bottle somewhere…not on back behind the packaging.

My 2015 memory box is already flooded with so many invaluable treasures from beautiful moments. And it’s only June 2. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds!

A beautiful life isn’t built in a day. A beautiful life, to me, is made moment by moment – when you do that thing you’re afraid of doing, say the thing you fear being criticized for and expand your mindset beyond society’s limitations.

One moment can lead to even greater moment, a connection with a person you may not have met which can lead to a job and/or career choice you never thought you’d have the opportunity to make. It’s all about choice. Will you choose to stay within the boundaries of your self-inflicted comfort zone? Or will you break free and shatter the parameters of your own fears?

Hey Check Out My Port! (part 1)

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Warm weather is finally here in New England! I don’t dare mention the “s” word. You know–that white, fluffy stuff that comes from the sky. Enough of it was moved about in Boston, this past winter, to “fill Gillette stadium 90 times” according to Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker. You know what I’m talking about. Even though it’s May, I’m not going into detail about it because after all this is New England. If it could sn– eh hem, get really cold again in May when it shouldn’t…this is where it would happen.

Warmer weather means less layers and more skin. Let’s keep this rated PG you dirty bird, get your mind out of the gutter…not THAT much skin. I’m talking tank tops, capris, sleeveless tanks. And one more thing for me, for other cancer patients…clear port visibility.

The area that my port was placed in makes it very, very visible. At Victoria’s Secret, one employee in particular always remembers me.  She gives me that “you look so familiar but I don’t want to offend you, so I’ll just ask if you need assistance instead” look. Until she helps me with something in the fitting room.  Then she’s all smiles and says “Oh that’s right! I remember you now from the…” At a loss for words, she touches her shoulder just below her clavicle–where my port is.

There’s also some concerned, elderly, female cashiers at one of the grocery stores I frequent. I can think of two or three of them off hand. This is the part that always gets me. They make conversation with me, idle chit chat, speaking to my kids or asking how they’re doing if they’re not with me. Eyes shift to my shoulder, in a passing glance but get fixated (momentarily) on my port. The next time their eyes meet mine, it’s this look of…I don’t know, pain? It’s a look I’ve gotten to know so well. The look of someone who, by some means, recognizes my port. “My God, how does someone so young have cancer? How could this happen to her?” THAT look.

You’d think with as many times as I’ve seen it, I’d be conditioned to not feel what I do when it happens. But I do. And every damn time someone gives me that look, it makes me want to burst into tears.

Not because I feel weak or think I’m too young to have had cancer. It pulls on my emotions because of the genuine element of human compassion behind it. Because I have never seen so much empathy, love and genuine concern from both people I know and total strangers in my entire life.

I’ve seen men as big as Sasquatch look like they’re about to cry when they hear I had cancer. Journalists, who are tough as nails in the field, look at me with such endearment because of what I endured.

There are still kindhearted, loving and sincerely good people on this earth.

It gives me hope.

Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?

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(above: My daughter and I after building our first snowman of the season!)

By now, I think most New englanders would agree…whoever pissed off Queen Elsa needs to go and apologize so we can get out this prolonged state of frozen Arendelle. It’s been snow, snow and more snow for four straight weeks in my neck of the woods. But before I got sick of the cold, there was this beautiful afternoon I shared with my daughter.

 The type of chemotherapy treatment I went through was 5-FU with Leucovorin and Oxaliplatin. Now every cancer type has a different type of treatment and each stage of cancer can also have treatment variations as well. Some people need chemotherapy and radiation, others need just one or the other. Some are extremely fortunate and only need major surgery to remove the tumors/affected cells.

My cancer treatment regime consisted of major colon resection surgery, followed by 12 rounds of chemotherapy. One chemo session every two weeks. Because of low blood cell counts (such as platelets and white cells) my treatment stretched out over nine months instead of six.

There are also different reactions to different types of chemo. Some people get hot flashes, experience pain with extreme heat or when eating/drinking anything hot. My reaction was sensitivity to cold.

Beginning chemo in early February, in New England, definitely wasn’t something I had prepared myself for. The residual effects of chemo left my body defenseless against the harsh, bitter weather. I couldn’t play in the snow with my kids. I couldn’t eat or drink anything cold unless I want to feel like I was swallowing broken glass. Anytime I went outside into the freezing air, I had to bundle up (picture Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”). Scarves, a hat, gloves, sometimes two layers of jackets and two pairs of sweatpants was my uniform of choice from February to May last year.

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You can imagine the elation I felt in January when we had our first heavy snow fall of 2015! I couldn’t wait to get outside. My daughter and I threw on our snow gear and headed out onto the back deck as the snow continued falling. It was the perfect texture for snowman building, fluffy and easy to pack. Not too fluffy where it won’t stick together but not full of too much moisture either. We had a blast playing in the snow together.

To be out in the cold without experiencing pins and needles in my face, feet and hands was amazing! The tingling sensation I had associated with cold weather was gone. I kept waiting for the pain to set in, but it never did. Time passed quickly as we built our own personal version of Olaf. By the time my daughter and I went inside, my son had finished watching a movie he started with my mom before us girls had gone outside. That means I had been out in the snow for nearly two hours without the slightest bit of discomfort!

The further out my survivorship goes, complacency becomes easier to settle into. It’s only been five months since my last chemo treatment. Already it feels like this bizarre, waking dream that’s since passed. Surreal. Until something gently reminds me.

Each time I go back to the Infusion Suite, sit in that big blue chair and get my port flushed or have blood work drawn, I’m reminded. All of 2014 was spent, literally, fighting for my life. I love harder, laugh louder, dance crazier and live my life moment to  moment because of what cancer taught me.

I’m still sick of the snow at this point. Fortunately for me though, this winter, it’s because of an entirely different reason 🙂

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