2016 Year in Review

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Playing in the rain on my wedding day

2016 was a great year overall for us. We had our ups and downs as anyone does, but we had so many wins this year it made all the crummy stuff worth it.

Some of the things from our family vision board manifested themselves into reality this year. I’m totally into what many refer to as woo woo; I believe in visualization and I look at my vision board every morning before I meditate. In February we traveled to Arizona for a week to check out potential places to live and scope out the local scene. In December we married on Maui next to the ocean underneath the beautiful palm trees, something we had dreamt of for many years. It was such a fun week celebrating with family and friends on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. If you had told me ten years ago all these things I wished for would actually happen, I probably would have told you, “You’re crazy!”. My life was just stumbling along until I discovered and added in some of these success habits and goal setting techniques. I also began writing my future book about my cancer story and how I recovered from treatments, which I can’t wait to share with you!

This year also marked an important milestone for me. 15 years that I have been blessedly cancer free. I feel like that is a reason to celebrate! I have made it this far with no chronic illness besides my hypothyroidism from radiation therapy. It does not mean much to life insurance companies however, they think I will die soon apparently so they refuse to insure me at any cost. It’s quite unfortunate that you get treated like some kind of defective human after cancer. I can’t donate blood either. I’m just going to keep living as healthy a lifestyle as I can so I can live to 100! (My current goal) I’m still thinking about ways I can help and inspire other childhood cancer survivors that being healthy can be accomplished after cancer, I do not like the current statistic that 80% of childhood cancer survivors have a chronic illness by age 40. I want to lower that number.

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Myself all puffed up on steroids during treatment in 2001

We’ve also been dealing with the toxic black mold situation that has progressively gotten worse the longer we are living here. It’s such a nightmare to try to get out of if you don’t have a safe place to go and a wedding already planned and paid for with non refundable plane tickets. I have read multiple books on minimalism over the past few years and made it my goal to lose the materialism and stuff that doesn’t bring me joy, but I’ve floundered at it quite honestly. I seriously cut back on buying things, but I felt like I couldn’t ever get rid of enough stuff! Well, now we really don’t have a choice. The universe has brought me a lesson on the importance of minimalism and shedding excess stuff. We can bring what we deem safe and the furniture is all going. A new mattress on the floor in an empty room is better than being ill!

Myself now with my family

Myself now with my family

This next year will be super exciting as more things manifest into our lives from our vision board. Currently we are packing, selling and donating in preparation to move to Arizona. I’m immensely excited about this as I have dreamt of moving to a warm climate for a decade now. It’s finally happening! When you evaluate your life and gain clarity on what you really want it can happen. Years of hard work eventually do pay off. When we looked at the current environment we live in (weather included) it was not conducive to the type of lifestyle we’d like to lead, so we made the decision to move across the country. It’s interesting how it all came together in the past few years, as if it were simply meant to be. The universe works in mysterious ways indeed. Have a happy, healthy, amazing New Year!

A Joyful Life

IMG_9858About this time fifteen years ago, my biopsy came back positive for recurrent malignancy. I seriously thought my life was over just before my 21st birthday. I made sure I enjoyed plenty of time with my friends and had lots of fun before I went into the hospital. Having cancer is a great teacher, but no one should have to go through such a horrible ordeal to learn these valuable lessons that I am about to discuss. 

“You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.” -Sam Levenson

I spent way too many years not loving myself. My body was not fit enough, my face wasn’t pretty enough, my teeth weren’t white enough, and my hair wasn’t straight enough. The list would go on and on. I could totally drone on with the things I thought were wrong, but I won’t. There’s nothing but self-love from me now. 😉 I learned the number one most important thing in life is my health, which is why I eat intentionally, exercise regularly, and meditate. You can read my posts on how we eat and how we supplement if you are curious. The second most important thing is living your dreams. If you aren’t happy and joyful most of the time, you can’t be truly healthy.

IMG_9844Recently, we went to visit Arizona for a week to visit different towns and look at places to live. This has been a dream of mine for over a decade now, to move to Arizona. Before this trip, I had only seen Arizona in pictures; so many people are puzzled as to how I just decided I am moving to a place I have never been in my life. Why Arizona? I think the fascination started in two ways. First, my aunt growing up was my role model. She was amazingly smart, beautiful, kind, and always impeccably dressed. She often visited Arizona (sometimes to test missiles) and talked about how she’d love to live there. (She never did get to move there before passing away.) Second, after I survived cancer the second time, I found Dr. Andrew Weil’s books and fell in love with his work in integrative medicine. He told a story in 8 Weeks to Optimum Health about how his car broke down in the desert of Arizona in 1973. He fell in love with the beauty of the desert and never left. For some reason or another, that story really stuck with me and created a seed of vision.

This trip was dedicated to enjoying everything Arizona has to offer and finding out where we’d like to start our lives out there. I have to say, it more than exceeded the expectations I had set in my mind. I felt like I was finally at home. The weather was great, the scenery was beautiful, and the food was amazing! Needless to say, we were all sad to board the plane to go back to NJ, for we had fallen in love with our forever home. We are very excited to make our way out there next year to start a new chapter in our lives.

I hear so many people make excuses for not living their life their way on their terms. When I tell people I want to leave NJ and move halfway across the country to AZ where I know no one, they often have this very similar response, “I would love to leave NJ, but I can’t because my family is here.” Well, my family is here too! I love my family, but do I really want to spend my life not pursuing my dreams to be near them 24/7? Not really. I am most joyful in the summertime, it gives me more energy. Why would I want to stay where it is cold and grey for months every year? If I loved winter and winter sports it might be a great place to be, but I do not.

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We are fools to waste our time, make the most of your time here. If you moan and complain you will only get negative energy back. If you have your health you have all the wealth in the world, you are truly blessed. Do what brings you joy, go live in that place you’ve always dreamt of, find your dream job, your dream spouse. There’s no reason not to, and if you tell yourself otherwise, it’s really just an excuse to stay in your comfort zone. So many of our limitations are self imposed. I heard a great idea, to plan your life backwards from your death, that way you will live in alignment with your true goals. I would say that works as I had to evaluate my life as if it were over any day; it creates a lot of clarity as to what is important.

You only live once; go live your dreams! Have you ever stepped outside of your comfort zone to chase your dreams? What is stopping you? 

My Thoughts on Supplementation 

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A beautiful bounty of organic produce

I went back and forth on whether or not to take supplements as I grew up. The media tends to confuse us with the back and forth studies: Multivitamins will raise mortality rates, no wait, vitamins are good for you! The thing I’ve come to realize over time and much researching is that the Type and Quality of the supplements you take matter. You can indeed cause harm by taking the wrong type of supplements or the wrong doses. Vitamin A in beta carotene form is way different than Vitamin A in retinol form. Vitamin C as ascorbic acid is very different from whole food Vitamin C derived from oranges.

So, what do we take for supplementation? Should you supplement? What about children?

It’s also important to understand your body’s unique needs and genetics. If you can afford to do it, I highly recommend getting your genome test done from a site such as 23andme.com. This allows you to better understand what your body’s individual needs are. For example, if you have a defect in the MTFHR gene you should be taking methyl folate. What you take will also be based on your dietary needs as well. Supplementation is meant to enhance and supplement your healthy diet, not supplant a bad diet.

From the time I thought about possibly having a baby, I took a multivitamin only with a separate fish oil supplement. I did this throughout my pregnancy. I did not want to use the prescription prenatal with all of the additives and artificial colors. I used New Chapter Perfect Prenatal organic whole food derived vitamins, and Garden of Life Ocean’s Mom 3 Prenatal fish oil supplement. Optimally, you would skip the multivitamin and try to buy each supplement you need individually. This is not the easiest route and it takes more research and money, but if you can do it, go for it!

What do I take today? A slew of supplements, which I understand is not a fit for everyone, but it works for me to keep my health optimal. It is costly and you have to put in the effort to swallow 20 pills a day. This is my current list of vitamins:

  1. Gotu Kola by Nature’s Way – I heard of this from Wim Hof, it is good for the skin sag I have from the rapid wasting I had in the hospital on chemo.
  2. Caprylic Acid by Now – This is good antifungal and has many uses. From PubMed: Caprylic acid is superior to & less expensive than Diflucan, & has potential application for anti-cancer, anti-aging, anti-Alzheimer’s disease, anti-Autism, anti-infection, & general circulatory improvement.
  3. Hawthorn Extract by Now – This has been studied many times on PubMed for use in treating CHF, or heart failure. It is also good for Hypertension. Anyone who has been through cancer treatments knows that your cardiovascular system could use some support!
  4. Organic Olive Leaf Oil by Barlean’s – The oleuropein, and other compound found in olive leaf, have a unique feature that makes the leaves particularly effective in fighting against various micro-organisms such as bacteria and viruses. These substances impair the ability of the viruses to create amino acids, thus preventing their ability to reproduce and multiply. It has been found that oleuropein is able to relax the blood vessels, lower blood pressure and even prevent the formation of blood clots. In addition, olive leaf also helps to stop irregular heartbeat, improve blood flow in the coronary arteries and balances blood sugar levels.
  5. Super Ubiquinol CoQ10 by Life Extension – I have been taking CoQ10 for a long time to offset the hardships my body endured from chemo. Recently I have stepped it up with this CoQ10 + Ubiquinol. Super Ubiquinol CoQ10 with BioPQQ® contains shilajit (which studies have shown doubles CoQ10 levels in the mitochondria) plus the breakthrough compound PQQ (shown to support the spontaneous generation of new mitochondria in aging cells). This represents a three-way strategy for enhanced mitochondrial support.
  6. Ultra-C 400 by MegaFoodA landmark study published in 2004 in the Journal of American College of Nutrition studied U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin C over the past half century.  Today’s fruits and veggies were found to contain 30% less vitamin C than your grandparents’ fruits and vegetables.
  7. EGCg by Now – From PubMed: Intervention studies using similar amounts of green tea, containing 200-300 mg ofEGCG, have demonstrated its usefulness for maintaining cardiovascular and metabolic health.
  8. Organic Evening Primrose Oil by Barlean’s – I take this for its health benefit for hypothyroidism and hair loss/brittleness. It does seem to help with hair and skin!
  9. Vital Proteins Collagen – Collagen peptides contain the same amino acids as gelatin which is identical to the protein found in skin, nails, hair, bones, cartilage, and joints. You can add this grass fed, pasture raised collagen to any liquid or yogurt for extra nutrition.
  10. Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega – Fish oil is well studied to help with inflammation and cell function. (30% of your brain is made of DHA) I also eat fish every week. Nordic Naturals uses nitrogen to process their fish oil and keep it from oxidizing. Make sure to refrigerate these!
  11. Vitamin Code Raw Calcium by Garden of Life – I was low in calcium after pregnancy so I spent time researching calcium supplements. I found that vitamin D, magnesium and K2 are very important for your body to be able to use calcium, they work synergistically. This supplement uses plant calcium along with vitamin D3, MK-7 from natto (converts to K2 in the body), magnesium, and other naturally occurring minerals and trace elements.
  12. Vitamin D3 by Life ExtensionVitamin D3 can be synthesized by humans in the skin upon exposure to ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation from sunlight. But, due to the winter season, weather conditions, and sun block, the body’s ability to produce optimal vitamin D levels may be inhibited. I take this D3 along with the D3 in my calcium supplement to keep my D level optimal. I do not live in a sunny state (yet!) so I have my D tested regularly.
  13. Probiotic with FOS by Jarrow – Probiotics are well known to benefit gut health, the immune system, and possibly even brain health. It contains strains that help protect and maintain a balanced intestinal microflora, and support immune function and intestinal health. (FOS is a natural prebiotic fiber that enhances the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract.) They must be kept refrigerated.
  14. Turmeric Strength by MegaFoods – Curcumin is the potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer active ingredient in turmeric. It has been well studied to be full of awesome, with minimal contraindications. Look for products standardized for 95% curcuminoids.

For my toddler, I give him a few things to supplement his diet and picky on and off toddler eating.

  1. Rainbow Light chewable multivitamin – My integrative medicine pediatrician recommended these over gummies. Are they organic? No. But so far it is hard to find a great vitamin for kids.
  2. Nordic Naturals Omega-3 gummies – Fish oil is important for good health and brain development, and this is one of the best brands out there for fish oil. It also doesn’t smell or taste fishy. (So that kids will eat them!)
  3. Green Pastures Blue Ice Infused Organic Coconut Oil – Each serving has 65% min coconut oil, 2+/-ml of Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil, and .5ml +/- of X-Factor Gold High Vitamin Butter oil and / or Blue Ice Skate Liver Oil. I mix this in warm juice so that my little one will take it and get his healthy fats.
  4. Udo’s Choice Flora Infant’s Probiotic -includes 6 strains of beneficial bacteria for infants and toddlers 0-5 years old. One serving per day helps maintain healthy intestinal flora, support the immune system, synthesize important B vitamins necessary for development, and is ideal for travelers to maintain healthy flora while away from home. I have used this since my son was born, I would mix it in breastmilk and now in his drinks. I use extra whenever he isn’t feeling well.

Always do your research on vitamins before you start. Some people may not need to supplement if they are getting all of their nutrients from food. It is of my opinion that most people nowadays are very busy, we get old food from grocery stores that could have lost some nutrition, and we have poisoned and depleted much of our soil that it is not up to its full potential to create nutrient dense foods. For these reasons and more, I feel very comfortable taking vitamins. Nutrition is important, and we all do the best we can with what we know.

Do you supplement? What are some of your favorite supplements? Comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts!

A Frozen Inspired Gratitude Jar

Frozen Gratitude JarWhen I first heard about gratitude jars, I wanted to make one so that I could use it to help my son learn about being grateful for what he has and also create a good lifelong habit for him. I immediately started perusing Pinterest for ideas. I wanted it to be gorgeous as well as functional so that it would spark joy when I looked at it; I knew if it was displayed we would be more likely to use it. The first thing I did was pick out the glitter paint for the jar. I found some pretty glitter at Michael’s and some Mod Podge. If you would like to make your very own gratitude jar, I have outlined here how we created ours, step by step.

Supply list:

  1. Mason Jar
  2. Glitter
  3. Mod Podge
  4. Craft sticks for mixing (optional)
  5. Coin slot lid (optional)
  6. Ribbon
  7. Stickers

Now you are ready to start making your jar!

Frozen Gratitude JarStep 1: Mix the glitter and Mod Podge together and pour into your mason jar. It will all be on the bottom. Next, start to slowly swirl the jar until it is evenly coated on the inside and the jar is now upside down. Allow the excess to drip out. Prop the jar over whatever you would like and let it dry upside down. I just left mine overnight to make sure it was set.

Frozen Gratitude JarStep 2: Decorate. Now comes the fun part! I chose sparkly blue stickers and ribbons for our jar. I kept with the Frozen theme by using snowflakes and glitter. You can decorate it with anything you’d like. Have fun with it, come up with your own theme! I used scrapbook stickers, rhinestones, and ribbons. The jar lid was replaced with a coin bank jar lid to make it easy to slip our notes into the jar.

Step 3: Coat the jar with Mod Podge after it is decorated to seal it. Let it dry and then add the ribbons. That’s it! Now your jar is ready to add lovely notes of gratitude or wonderful things that happened today. At the end of each year we empty ours and read them together as a family. It has become something to look forward to each New Year. Enjoy!

New Year’s Detox & Goals

Each year I make it my goal to make the coming new year my best year ever. This way as I progress through life I am assuredly becoming a better version of myself. I’d like to share my goals for this year with you lovelies:

  1. Drink green juices or smoothies more frequently. These help get more nutrients into your body quickly and they are great to drink first thing in the morning for energy all day. It’s also a good way to squeeze more fruits and veggies into your diet. (But let’s face it, that juicer is a pain to clean!)
  2. Unfollow people on social media who do not have a positive outlook on life. I no longer wish to clutter my newsfeed with things that do not serve me in any way. What you put in your mind is just as important as what you put in your mouth.
  3. Get to the gym before work. This one is hard for some people. I know as a former night owl, it’s painful to get out of bed by 5am. Especially when it’s cold and dark and the covers are so warm and inviting. The research shows that early morning workouts get your blood going, make you more productive throughout your day, they give you energy and help you sleep well.
  4. Journal every day and use a planner to plan your days out. This year I’m going to try the Passion Planner and see how I like it, I’ve heard great things about it. I also use the Freedom Journal to do my morning journaling. These habits have really helped me to become more productive and organized, which everyone could benefit from.
  5. Meal plan more consistently. Meal plans make it easier to get through a busy week and they help you eat better too. You can also save money by only buying the ingredients you need.
  6. No screen time one hour before bed. I am notorious for breaking this rule by reading and writing on my phone in bed. The research is pretty solid that we get a better nights sleep when we cut the lights out at least an hour before shut eye.
  7. Learn to say no to things that do not serve you. If it doesn’t feel right or help you move toward your goals, saying no to things is ok.

I hope this list inspires you to create your own list for the New Year! I’d love to hear some of your goals in the comments section. What would you add?

The Holiday Hugging Challenge

KHPhoto_0848I’ve had an aversion to touch for as long as I can recall. I’m not quite sure where it came from; my best guess is a traumatic early childhood memory. I can still vividly remember sitting in the back seat of my parent’s car as a child not wanting my thighs to touch my sibling’s. This was pretty difficult to accomplish mind you,  as I have three brothers, so the car was crowded.

I assumed that others did not want to be touched either based on my own paradigm, so I just went through my young adult life avoiding physical contact with anyone that I wasn’t really comfortable with. I would hug and kiss my boyfriends of course when I started dating, but I would receive complaints from some that I was not affectionate enough. Still though, I never enjoyed hugging much, it just felt expected. It may be the introvert in me, the jury is still out on that.

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This was me!

Then of course, I had a baby. All of a sudden my world was filled with snuggles and cuddling all the time, and I loved it! There is no fear of rejection with a child, they are so full of love. I felt so at peace hugging my baby boy. It made me wonder why I found it so easy to be affectionate with him but not with adults.

In more recent years I started to come to the realization that this fear of rejection and intimacy is holding me back in life. There’s this little child inside that says, “Hey, it’s easier to not do anything than to try and be horribly rejected!” Sadly, I listen to this voice far too often! When I joined the yoga community and saw how friendly everyone was, I almost felt like an outsider looking in at all the happy squealing women embracing each other. I longed to be part of that world. So here is where my challenge began. I would force myself out of my comfort zone and hug people! It has taken a lot of mental work to push myself to get over my fear of hugging random people, but I have been doing really well so far.

So, I propose a hugging challenge for the month of December! Anyone can join me at anytime. My goal is to try to hug at least one person every day. Hug everyone and anyone this holiday season and spread some joy and love. Tis’ the season of giving hugs! If you’re already a big hugger then some other random acts of kindness will work too. 😉 Spread the word and let me know in the comments if you have ever been afraid to be intimate with someone.

A Perfect World

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My coworker said something to me today that inspired this post. “You really want to live in this perfect world. That is never going to happen.” Well, why couldn’t it ever happen? I believe it could, but it starts with how we treat each other and raise the children.

I want to live in a world where doctors treat the patient, not the symptom.

The world where dentists do not use mercury to fill teeth, and hand out samples of toxic toothpastes, rather using ozone and nutrition to heal the body, and give out samples of natural toothpastes like Earthpaste or Auromere.

Where drug companies don’t own the government and the AMA, and every other commercial isn’t a drug advertisement for a pill that will cause you more harm than good.

A world where war no longer exists because people love and respect each other enough to leave one another alone when they disagree on their beliefs.

A world where people aren’t out to make each other miserable by gossip or betrayal.

A world where people do not poison their food and pollute the land, air, and water that nourishes them.

A world where people love to read and learn, not spend their lives mindlessly watching football or the Kardashians. (A little television is ok, but the average American spends 15 YEARS of their life watching TV.)

A world where everyone enjoys exercise and the beauty of nature.

A world where there is no hate, no bullying, no greed, no abuse, no homelessness, no one starving.

A world I would like for our children to live in. This world begins with each of us, it starts with controlling our own egos. When we work on ourselves, we create ripples of change that affect everyone around us. Small acts of kindness create great things in our world!

Am I the only one who feels this way? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!  🙂

Orbit Baby Travel System G2 Review

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Original post written 4/20/14

I did a ton of research when picking out what type of baby car seat to buy for Rafe. I knew he’d be spending lots of time in it from birth, and I am very motivated to keep his life as chemical free as possible. The only one that I kept coming back to was Orbit Baby. It’s the greenest travel system I could find. Orbit Baby’s seats use materials certified free of BFR (Brominated Flame Retardants). These certified fabrics make Orbit Baby the world’s first convertible car seat system certified healthy and clean by Oeko-Tex. Perfect! It is exactly what I was looking for in a travel system.
We have been super happy with the Orbit system so far. The infant car seat with the dock is so quick, easy, and convenient to install and use. The car seat doubles as a stroller seat by snapping right into the stroller frame, and it has a UV sunshade with Paparazzi Shield™ extension that I love! It kept snooping strangers away from my newborn when we had him out and about. Now that he is getting bigger we decided to upgrade him to the G2 stroller seat. It has the same awesome materials as the infant seat, with the addition of a one-hand lengthening footrest and a ventilation system in the back. The UV sunshade is nice and large on the stroller seat, I just use a light blanket to shield his legs from the sun. It also has a convenient snack tray that snaps on when he is big enough to eat solids, but in the meantime I just keep the padded cover on the bar with some colorful toys for him to play with.
Now I am looking at toddler car seats since we will have to purchase one before we know it the way Rafe is growing. He has almost doubled his birth weight and he is only approaching his three month birthday next week. I think we will end up going back to Orbit Baby again for the Toddler Seat G2, which will also dock on the car seat base and stroller frame.
Overall, the Orbit Baby system is very well made and eco-friendly, which makes me a happy mommy. It is well worth the money invested to know that my baby is safe and comfortable. Also, prepare to field lots of questions and receive tons of compliments while you are out with this stroller. Almost everywhere we go someone asks us about it. I’ve literally had a woman run across the street to ask us, “Where did you get that stroller?!” The design sells itself.

Update 12/10/15:

We have been using our Orbit system for four years now, including the Toddler Seat G2. The stroller seat had a little snafu about a year ago, the clip would not work to disengage the seat from the base. I immediately contacted Orbit and they asked me to send documentation of the problem. I emailed it to them and they sent me the new G3 seat right away! We experienced great customer service from this company, which I think is super important. I really wish they would make a booster seat next! *hint hint *

Detox, Simplify, Organize

Since becoming a mother has stripped me of all that precious free time that I used to have, I decided that my life needs another overhaul. I had the pre-baby overhaul: switching to more organic food, becoming a devout yogi and pescetarian, exercising regularly, reading the baby books, watching less television, playing less video games, etc. Now my schedule needs further trimming to allow me lead a sane, happy life.

I started by going through my wardrobe and donating a lot of my clothes that I really no longer need. I have accumulated so many things over the years it was starting to suffocate me physically and mentally. I looked to the advice of William Morris who said, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I took this as love it or leave it. If I don’t absolutely love the item in question, then I should part with it. I got rid of about 50% of my wardrobe via this method. It actually felt pretty good to purge everything out of my closet, and the things I parted with found their way to new homes.

I found this in an article on one of my favorite websites, Mind Body Green, it is a list of ways to simplify your life:

Popular culture: Watch, play, and listen less; don’t buy stuff you don’t need; don’t believe anything it tells you; don’t care too much about it

Technology: Opt out, delete, uninstall, don’t update, don’t click, don’t save, don’t friend, follow, or like, disconnect, unplug

Your world: Throw out, empty, clear, sell, donate, give away, reuse, recycle, reduce

Time: Un-schedule, don’t plan, don’t over-commit, say no, do nothing, slow down, take off your watch, be spontaneous

Your social life: Be selective, choose quality over quantity, spend time alone

Your mind: Clarify, prioritize, simplify, tune in, zone out, read, meditate

Your body: Eat nutritiously and in small portions, exercise frequently, go outside, relax often, nap regularly, go to sleep early

I am far from perfect with this list of course, but I work at it a little at a time. The technology part will be hardest I think, it’s a weak spot for me. I need more peace in my life, I think we could all use that. Here’s to my new calm, organized, simplified life!

15 Years Later, a Survivor 

Happy Birthday to me! October is a special month for me, as it is my second birthday, the anniversary of my autologous stem cell transplant. Something many people do not like to talk about is their medical history. I used to feel the same way, it’s almost terrifying to think that you are different, that there was something wrong with you. In my younger years, I used to pretend that nothing had ever happened to me, that I was as normal as every one of my peers. But, your past has a way of following you around, and it reared it’s ugly head again right in the beginning of my 21st year. I had cancer. It was to me, the worst diagnosis one could ever receive. It meant being ill again, losing my hair again, not being able to have a normal life yet again. The first time, I was 16, and I did not yet have a job or any real responsibility. It was much easier for me to just be out of school and have some homeschooling while I went through my treatment. This time was going to be different. I had a car payment, I had bills, I was in college, I had a job, and a relationship. This time, I had to walk away from everything I had started to build as my whole life came crumbling down around me. I had hoped that I could retain some semblance of a normal 20 year old life, but that didn’t happen. I spent my 21st birthday vomiting, but it wasn’t from a night of drinking like the average 21 year old birthday celebration. I ended up spiraling downward faster than I could blink after I finished my final chemotherapy treatments and my stem cell transplant that October. I would go on to be on a ventilator, in a coma, and hospitalized for 3 months straight.

When I was awakened from my coma, I was surprised by my complete paralysis from muscle atrophy. I cannot even begin to explain how it felt. I had to be fed, changed, and sponge bathed. It was painful to try to move, and I had become so sickly thin from muscle atrophy and weight loss. My parents carried me home, literally, right before Christmas. It would take 3 months of therapy for me to learn how to walk again, and I don’t know how long it took for me to feel normal again. Years I think. It was 4 years before I was able to start working at my job again.

But here I sit, 11 years later, to tell my tale. My message to everyone out there who is battling cancer right now. Don’t give up. Ever. It was the hardest battle I’d ever fought in my life, but the one most worth the fight. I know more people now than ever before who are battling this condition, and I feel for them, because I was once there too, and I know the horrors of the treatments that they are given with the promise of a big ‘maybe you will survive this.’ I am grateful to myself for never giving up, for my family and friends for always being there for me, and to my doctors and nurses, who saved my life.

This year, I have graduated college at the top of my class, given birth to my adorable son, and I have an amazing fiancé. I finally feel like my life is starting to go in the direction it was intended to. Happy Birthday to me, indeed.