Prepping for the Marathon, Remembering Ronnie

Written by JKM on September 24th, 2014

Remember when I said I would keep you posted about my training on my blog?!  I guess i lied.  Here we are days away from the marathon, and it’s only my second post.  I have indeed been training, though, so don’t worry about that!  I just haven’t wanted to spend any down time sitting at the computer.  With that said, this is a post I have been meaning to write for a long time.

I realized that some people don’t know the circumstances surrounding Ronnie’s death.  This is not because our family is ashamed of it, not at all.  Ultimately we don’t know the specific reason for Ronnie’s acute illness.  It was a combination of various physical breakdowns that, when compounded, could not be reversed:  severe alcoholic hepatitis, pneumonia, and kidney and liver disfunction.  Ronnie was an alcoholic.

He was also a devoted son, loving brother, wonderful friend, computer expert and very capable EMT. Alcoholism was a very small part of who he was.  It is an illness, one I consider myself very qualified to argue is worse than cancer.  Not long after Ronnie died, I read a blog post at work that made my JuLaura blood boil.  It was written by a patient undergoing treatment for breast cancer.  She wrote of her disgust over a news segment where an expert claimed that addiction was an illness like any other illness, comparing it to cancer.

I was angry.  So I wrote a response.  But I never sent it.  After I wrote it down, I thought about how she must be scared and that it probably wasn’t the appropriate time to educate her.  She was venting through her blog, as I often did, and I didn’t want to judge her.  I did, however, save what I wrote:

As a 2-time cancer survivor, I respectfully disagree.  Perhaps you have to know someone       personally to understand the disease of addiction.  My brother died a month and a half ago of alcoholism.  He never “put [himself] in the position to become addicted“.

I am slowly learning just how serious of a disease alcoholism and addiction is.  And I am of the firm belief that he suffered far more than I did through chemo, total body irradiation, radioactive iodine and a stem cell transplant.  He suffered silently because addiction is an unacceptable illness, a character flaw to be judged by others, and that is not how it should be.

I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I now feel a great responsibility to educate others about addiction.  I know cancer well (unfortunately), but I have much to learn about addiction.

That was three years ago, and I am embarrassed to write that I still know little about this disease, save my personal experience with it.  I think about it almost daily and I wonder if there is any way to truly understand it.

When I think about Ronnie’s alcoholism, I think of 9/11.  Ronnie had jury duty that morning, and because he woke up late, he did not take the subway to the World Trade Center stop.  Instead, he hailed a cab, and while riding along, he heard planes flying at what seemed like a very low altitude.  He saw the first tower just after the plane was hit, and he watched as the second plane flew into the second tower. He began walking toward the chaos, and what he witnessed was something he relived in his mind every day for the rest of his life:  people jumping from the towers, others getting hit by cars while running terrified in the streets.  Then came the collapse, and Ronnie turned and ran.

Bars became places where people found solace and companionship.  The entire city of New York was suffering, and having a few drinks with someone to talk about their experience that day or to discuss the gaping hole left by the fall of the towers brought great comfort.  That gaping hole represented something much more than a simple loss of real estate; it was a loss of lives, of security, of normalcy.  Life would never be the same.  Alcohol helped to relax and to forget the horror of Ground Zero for a brief time.

Ronnie was always touched by the strength of New Yorkers and their response to such tragedy.  I would say that was around the time that he truly began to feel like a New Yorker.  But his pride in his city and fellow New Yorkers could not diminish the fear I believe he felt each day, a fear I think alcohol helped to assuage.

I can never imagine what it must have been like to witness what Ronnie witnessed.  I know that after watching the news all day at work and home, I took a long bath, and I sobbed almost uncontrollably; I was relieved Ronnie was OK, but I grieved for what he had seen, for the lives that were lost, and for the realization that life was forever changed.  That will always be the day I stopped feeling safe.

None of this is meant to explain away Ronnie’s alcoholism, but rather to illustrate that life circumstances can play a great role in addiction, and I truly think it did with Ronnie.

There was a period of over a year when he quit drinking.  He went back to school and he also joined Tuckahoe Volunteer Rescue Squad as an EMT.  He really was happy, but I still believe he replayed the images of 9/11 in his mind every day.  He also was working hard to encourage me after my diagnosis of leukemia.  When I relapsed in 2008, I think he too relapsed, finding some comfort in alcohol when he could not affect the safety and health of those he loved.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but these are my thoughts, and I wanted to share them with you.

Please don’t judge addiction.  It is a powerful and devastating illness that ravages both the person addicted and all those they love.  To end, I will borrow a piece from my sister, Katie, who wrote this as a Facebook status following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death in February:

Every time a public figure dies and drugs or alcohol addiction appear to be the cause, I see variations of the following statements on social media: “They made that choice to do it to themselves.” “They knew what they were doing.” “They’re selfish.” While I would hope to find more empathy and less ignorance, the messages are almost always the same. I find I’m a stronger person by learning aboutaddiction and addressing the scientific facts that our brains do not all function the same. That we all deal with experiences in different manners. Mostly, I’ve found that I’m stronger through loving–through realizing that my judgements don’t help those suffering. And they don’t help me either.

I miss my brother every day and I can say with 100% certainty that it was not a choice for him, nor was he selfish. He had an addiction and attempted to deal with it in a society where insidious comments are disguised as tolerance or help. I hope less people know the pain felt by Ronnie or the pain my family and I felt. I’ll always strive to do what Ronnie taught me by example: fight ignorance with knowledge.

My Comeback

Written by admin on July 29th, 2014

This is my comeback.

Four years ago, I was training for my first full marathon. Speedwalking through the hills of San Francisco was the ultimate proof (for myself as much as for others) that I was healthy and that treatments for leukemia were a fading memory. I was so happy…and proud.

Two thousand eleven brought even more excitement when my niece Lucy was born! It was a busy and wonderful spring with her arrival and a new fundraising challenge. I competed in the National Capital Area Man & Woman of the Year campaign, earning the title of second runner-up and winning the mission award!

Soon after though, my world grew dark. My brother, Ronnie, died July 25th, 2011. The suddenness of his loss and the emptiness it left in my entire being seemed to bring the world to a stop. In December 2011, I was diagnosed with melanoma in situ (stage 0) between my toes. Surgeons removed it and I recovered quickly, but just two months later, I fell while walking the pups and broke the ulna and radius in my right arm. Nine months after that, I stubbed my toe and broke it badly enough to require a cast.

Part of me felt weary. I was tired of being a patient, and I was emotionally exhausted. The timeline of everything was almost tragically comical. In my heart, I knew I was so lucky to have renewed health and a supportive family. I was lucky to spend almost 33 years with a loving, intelligent, thoughtful, funny brother. I was lucky the melanoma was stage 0, lucky I still had use of my arm. I did my best to focus on the positives, but there were many days when I wondered if I would ever feel like myself.

I think often of “Finding Nemo” and Dory’s advice to “Just keep swimming”…it may sound silly, but that is truly sage advice! Somehow three years have passed since Ronnie’s death. I am still able to laugh. I can find joy in little pleasures. I have hope in the future. These are incredible feats, but I am ready for more.

This October, I will walk the Marine Corps Marathon with Team in Training in Ronnie’s memory. He was always my number one advocate, and it is his smile I will picture when I cross the finish line. I am healthy. I am loved. I will continue to celebrate life in Ronnie’s memory.

Visit my Team in Training fundraising page to make a donation.

P.S. You will notice that old blog posts have annoying characters inserted into them. This happened when they restored my blog, and I’m not technically savvy enough to figure out how to fix it. If anyone knows the trick, please let me know! This blog was Ronnie’s creation, and I want to bring it back to its former greatness. :)


Memories of Seattle

Written by JKM on July 7th, 2012

Remember me?  :)  My arm is healing well, although to type, I still have to stick my right elbow way out…otherwise I can’t turn my forearm enough to get my fingers to the keyboard…still, my motion is greatly improved and I’m allowed to drive which has been nice.  I really like my physical therapist and I enjoy the social aspect of therapy (you know, stuff like “what happened to you?” and “who’s your doctor?”) :).  The main concern now is regaining my ability to pronate and supinate (or as my doc says “pay the bill, take the tip”).  You never realize how important certain movements are until you’re challenged to relearn them.

Anyway, an update on my arm isn’t really the reason I’m writing this post.  I wanted to share a story I heard on the radio yesterday…it brightened my day and I hope it brings some sunshine to yours as well, even if you’ve never been to Seattle:  http://www.npr.org/2012/07/06/156209461/wish-you-were-here-city-kayaking-in-seattle (I recommend listening to it instead of reading it…he’s a wonderful storyteller).

I was so moved by the story, I looked up the author and sent him an e-mail.  If I were a writer, I would certainly want to know how much my writing impacted someone…so here’s what I wrote:

Dear Mr. Walter,

I was driving in my car yesterday when I was transported back to Seattle…well, not physically obviously, but figuratively.  I had been contemplating my week and worrying about the future when NPR introduced the most recent story in their “Wish You Were Here” series, “City Kayaking in Seattle”.  I smiled and reminisced as you shared your love of both Seattle and Lake Union.

Four years ago, I was getting ready to move to Seattle from Northern Virginia for four and a half months.  To be more specific, I was getting ready to move to South Lake Union to the Pete Gross House, where I would live while receiving my stem cell transplant at the Hutch.  My family and I fell in love with the city, not simply because it was where I regained my health, but because the beauty of the city and specifically Lake Union, restored our spirits.  When I first visited the Hutch prior to making the final decision about where I would have my transplant, I looked out from the waiting room and watched seaplanes landing in Lake Union and boats and kayakers making their way through the lake.  Despite the fact that I was 3,000 miles away from family and friends, I felt content…only a couple hours later, my parents, brother and I walked down to Chandler’s and made the decision to come to Seattle for the transplant.  We sat by the water, toasted to my health with iced teas and called family and friends to tell them Seattle would soon be my new temporary home.

Doctors suggested I walk at least one mile each day, so when we weren’t at the Hutch or the University of Washington, we eagerly explored our new neighborhood and the surrounding city.  I kept a blog during my stay, and many people commented that it felt more like a travel blog than an account of my medical experience.  Even when I was in hospital isolation for a week because I had been treated with high doses of radioactive iodine, I bragged about the view from my room…it looked right out onto the Cut…I could see through the hallway to another window where UW fans cheered on the football team.

I had been to almost all of the places you mentioned and your description was so vivid, I imagined myself there again.  Thank you so much for sharing it.

Julie Matthews

Here’s to Lake Union and the beautiful, beautiful city that I will always consider my second home.

Love,
Julie

PS My favorite bugs are back!  I heard my first katydid on the Fourth of July…it seemed so appropriate to hear them on the most celebrated of all summer days!  I highly recommend heading outside to listen to these beautiful bugs of summer (here’s a recording I found…I’m pretty sure I’ve included this same one on a previous blog:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Q7cx8i4lUk).

A Lucky Girl

Written by JKM on March 23rd, 2012

Typing only with the left hand is no small feat, when you’re right-handed anyway.  Why, you ask, am I only using my left hand to type?  No, it’s not just some stupid experiment…I broke my right arm in two places last week.  I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is no fascinating story or interesting background to share with this unfortunate news.

I was out for an evening walk with the pups and darkness had fallen…that makes it sound dramatic, doesn’t it?  Instead of “it was dark” or “the sun was down”…”darkness had fallen” sounds rather ominous. :)  In any case, it was dark.  I had my headlamp on and the dogs were wearing their orange safety vests.  When we were rounding one of the corners in the neighborhood, I noticed headlights coming up the hill.  We don’t have any sidewalks in the road, so the pups and I stepped off the road into the grass to wait for the car to pass.  I took a couple steps in the grass and all of the sudden my foot rolled on an errant stick and I fell directly onto my right forearm.

When I stood up, I thought “Well, that hurt!”, but it wasn’t until I looked down at my arm that I really started to worry.  You know how forearms are supposed to stay straight?  Well, mine was not that way anymore.  For a split second, I thought “maybe if I close my eyes, I’ll wake up and find this was all a terrible nightmare.”, but in my brain I knew my arm was twisted and it would not magically heal itself.  For another split second, I wondered if I should push my arm to try and get it straight again…then, I decided, “nah that’s probably a very bad idea.”  So I walked up the slope and waited for the headlights to get closer.  I waved my left arm, trying to flag down the driver, but they either thought I was just a really enthusiastic waver or they didn’t see me.

I should probably tell you this was one of the very rare walks where I didn’t bring my cell phone.  So, I started walking.  The dogs were wonderful…they never pulled and luckily they didn’t realize enough to panic.  If you know my neighborhood, you also know the houses are a fair distance from one another.  I walked to the closest home…someone must have been watching over me because they were home!  I wasn’t sure if I could walk to the next house and I was still half a mile away from my own home.

Shannon was absolutely wonderful, calling the ambulance and my parents.  She took Jameson and Guinness inside when the ambulance pulled up and put me in the very capable and reassuring hands of the county rescue squad.  All I could think of in the back of that ambulance was how wonderful Ronnie was at that job.  I imagined him sitting back there with me, gently bracing my arm and teasing me to get my mind off of the situation.  I so wish I had gone on a ridealong with him.  I felt sad, yet comforted because I could feel his presence.  I knew I would never get the chance to share this crazy story with him, but I felt that he already knew about it and he had things under control.  I also felt incredibly proud of him because of his years as an EMT.  Watching the cars part behind the flashing lights and joking with Don, my paramedic, I realized just how much is involved in working as an EMT.  It requires skill, vast knowledge and an enormous heart.  I pictured Ronnie’s smile while I chatted with Don, and I thought about the conversation I would have with Ronnie about the experience.  He would have been proud of my strength and my calm and he would have wanted all the details about the injury, the ride in the ambulance and my perspective as a patient.

Laura met me at the urgent care clinic and spent the evening by my side, making me laugh even when the nurses wheeled in the creepy torture device shown below.  I broke both my radius and the ulna.  For anyone interested, Laura has an entertaining account of my reaction to the above-mentioned device!

On Thursday, I met with an orthopedic surgeon who showed me the X-Ray the ER had taken prior to reducing the fracture.  Wow…as the doctor told me, it was quite a “nasty fracture”.  Dr. Ain scheduled my surgery for Monday morning, and I felt relieved to know I was on my way to being put back together again!

I had the surgery Monday and spent one night in the hospital.  Today I met with Dr. Ain again and saw the X-Ray of my new “robo arm” (that’s how Katie is referring to it…she said Ronnie would have loved the fact that I had a “robo arm”!  :) )  Here’s the inventory of metal in my right forearm:  2 plates, 12 screws and 30 staples (to close two 4″ incisions).  I also have some man-made bone (aka putty) in there, although you can’t make that out in the X-Ray.

I feel so lucky.  I keep asking myself, “What if I hurt my leg when I fell as well?  What would have happened if I passed out in the grass?  What if Shannon hadn’t been home?  What if the ambulance hadn’t arrived so quickly?”  I am indeed a lucky girl, plus now I have a cool “robo arm”!  :)

Thank you to everyone for the thoughtful notes, beautiful flowers, delicious fruit, cute gifts, etc., etc., etc.  You must be getting pretty darn sick of sending those to me!!  I hope you’re all doing wonderfully and enjoying the spring weather.  In the midst of all this crapola, the world celebrated the first day of spring…Happppy Spring!!

Love,

Julie

PS My toe is doing great! :)

A New Challenge

Written by JKM on January 21st, 2012

I never thought a cancer diagnosis could be good news, but that is just what it was, well, relatively speaking.  The Monday before Christmas, my dermatologist told me I have melanoma in situ (Stage 0), the earliest stage possible and the best melanoma diagnosis you can get, if you have to get a diagnosis in the first place! :)

Earlier that morning, I received a call from her office asking me to come in to speak with her and to bring someone with me.  Well, obviously they weren’t planning to give me good news because 1) it’s a very busy office and they fit me in immediately and 2) you don’t need company to receive good news.  For the two hours after that phone call and before my appointment, I thought the worst.  I hung up the phone and called my mom crying.  ”How could this be?”, I wondered to myself.  ”How could God give me cancer again?  How can he pile my family with sadness upon sadness?”

I called my boss crying.  I cried to my coworker.  I felt nauseous and hungry at the same time.  Then I reasoned with myself.  ”OK, Julie.  You’ve been through similar situations before and there is nothing you can do to change this medical fact.  Deal with it and move forward.”

I am familiar with melanoma through friends and acquaintances.  I have read about it online.  I knew when I walked into my doctor’s office that melanoma was one of the most aggressive forms of cancer there is, so as soon as I heard the words “in situ” and “Stage 0″, I was relieved.  The fact that she told me I had melanoma went out the window at that point because I had prepared myself for the very worst.

In situ literally means “in position”.  The malignant cells  have not metastasized or spread to any other part of the  body. Pathologists determined my diagnosis after analyzing  a suspicious mole on the inside of my right pinky toe (see  photo).

I go in this week for surgery to remove the margins, but that will be it…no chemo, no radiation.  Is it strange that I’m looking forward to the surgery so I can have some down time?  I always said one of the nice things about being a patient was that no one expected anything of me.  Not that I want to be a patient…I would much rather live with the stress of trying to fulfill expectations than face the more critical fear of life and death.  Nevertheless, I know how to milk cancer and recovery pretty darn well at this point!!  :)  I’ve already booked my spot on the couch next week and I’ve also requested a homemade banana milkshake.  I’m trying to think of what else I’d like to be spoiled with…any ideas?  I’m looking forward to cuddling with the pups and watching “Law & Order”, “House Hunters” and Lifetime.

The surgery is pretty straightforward.  The general surgeon will remove the margins (they told me this will take about one hour) and then a plastic surgeon will fix the area with a skin graft (having a little fat taken off of my thigh is kind of like a bonus!).  That part will also take about an hour.  Although they said I’ll feel uncomfortable, I won’t have a prolonged recovery.  I just need to relax a few days and that’s that!

So 2012 begins with a small hurdle, “small” being the key word.  They say melanoma in situ is pretty much 100% curable.  I don’t like using the word “cure” and “100%” together though because I feel like it’s flirting with fate.  It has a very high cure rate and I am so thankful my dermatologist noticed the spot.  Now I’d like to climb up onto my soapbox and tell you to make sure you do a monthly skin check.  Don’t forget to check between your toes and on the bottoms of your feet.  Check your head, your bum, every inch of your skin.  Make a yearly appointment with a dermatologist, always wear sunscreen (even in the winter, even if you plan on being inside most of the day).  Just wear it.  Slather it on your feet when you wear sandals and on the bottoms of your feet if you cannot live your life without sunbathing.   And for my final soapbox request, I ask you to watch this video and pass it on.

They told me my treatment for leukemia made me more susceptible to other cancers such as breast, thyroid, brain and skin.  Somehow that just doesn’t seem fair, does it?  Ironically, the same week I found out I had melanoma in situ, the Huffington Post published this article.  They must have ESP!

I’ll try to pull myself away from tv and milkshakes long enough to keep you apprised of how I’m feeling.  I know I’m a delinquent blogger, but that’s just how I am!  I’ll write when I write and you’ll just have to wait in suspense.  :)

Lots of love,
Julie

Written by JKM on August 17th, 2011

The house is silent except for the gentle clicking of the grandfather clock and the soft hum of the computer.  Photos of Ronnie are strewn around the table and I’m supposed to be working.  I am struggling to focus.

Never have I felt as alone as I did when I sat with my parents in the funeral home, providing information for Ronnie’s death certificate and making plans for his cremation.  It seemed to be such an intimate moment, and I couldn’t help but think of the parallels between Ronnie’s birth and his death…so much formality:  “What is his full name?  Where was he born?  What is the father’s full name?  What is the mother’s maiden name?  What is his social security number?”  Almost 36 years ago, my parents filled out paperwork for his birth, and it was unbelievable to us that we were making plans for his funeral.

I looked around at the various decorations advertised for coffin enhancements:  a garden shovel and flower with the words “Mom”, a fish and bait set with the words “Dad”…it felt so commercialized…then my dad spoke the words we were all thinking:  “This is unbearable.”  All I could think of was “how does anyone ever get through this pain?  How do we continue with our lives?  How can I possibly live through the death of all those I love?  How will I ever, ever feel happy again?”  I realized that  ultimately, each of us is completely alone and the thought terrified me.

I suppose the terrible pain of death is the price we pay for loving so intensely.  Although you are rewarded in life with moments of incredible joy and unforgettable memories, the death of someone you love rips out a piece of you and somehow you are expected to move on.  I was so angry at the medical personnel in the hospital whose lives were unchanged by Ronnie’s death.  How could they sit at their computer and do their work as though the world hadn’t forever altered?  How could they joke with each other when they were surrounded by illness?  I tried to stop myself from these strong feelings of disgust, but I accept it now as part of my mourning.

I will be jealous of those who laugh easily, and I will be angry with God for dealing my family more than what I believe is our fair share of heartache…not that there is a fair share.  I understand that in my mind, but my heart will never comprehend.  I am incredibly grateful for the many wonderful memories I have, but the tragedy of his loss dulls my appreciation for life’s beauty and happiness.

I found this quote somehow helpful in creating perspective about life and loss:

“Why be saddled with this thing called life expectancy? Of what relevance to an individual is such a statistic? Am I to concern myself with an allotment of days I never had and was never promised? Must I check off each day of my life as if I am subtracting from this imaginary hoard? No, on the contrary, I will add each day of my life to my treasure of days lived. And with each day, my treasure will grow, not diminish.” ~Robert Brault

I just keep thinking of Ryan Darby, Boy of the Year, who so wisely stated “Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.  Even if you don’t want to do it, you have to.”  My family and I, along with all those who knew and loved Ronnie, do not want to continue our lives without him, but we do not have an option.  We will live our lives to the fullest in honor of Ronnie, and his memories will always bring comfort.

Ronnie Matthews
September 7, 1975-July 25, 2011

Riding My Wave Train

Written by JKM on May 1st, 2011

Good morning, everyone!  Happy Friday!!  I’m sitting here at one of my very favorite places.  I’ll give you a couple hints and we’ll see if you can guess:  I’m enjoying a free vanilla coffee, I’m now on my second free donut (and I don’t pick the plain ones…first it was chocolate with cream in the middle and now it’s one with chocolate frosting and sprinkles).  I’m surrounded by wonderful light, a little bit of motivating music and (and here comes the big hint, folks), the building is full of cars…If you don’t guess this one then it’s clear you have not been keeping up with my posts!  :)

I am indeed at the Volkswagen dealership!!  Good job to all of you who guessed it, especially if you guessed it before I dropped the mother of all hints.  You know me well and you are a loyal Julie’s Blog reader.  Sorry, there’s no prize for guessing, just the satisfaction of knowing that you have a good memory.  :)  I’m a little irritated right now though because there’s a lady cleaning the showroom floor and she keeps shaking out her mop which makes this obnoxious noise…she is ruining my experience.  I won’t let it deter me though…I might just have to throw something on her from the balcony above.  hahahahahahaha I’ll blame the quiet fellow at the table next to me.  He obviously doesn’t know all that VW has to offer…he’s not even eating a free donut or drinking a free coffee.

Come to think of it though, those really aren’t free at all.  I’ve dropped a pretty penny here over the years so really, coffee and a donut is the very least they can do!!!  Speaking of a “pretty penny”, don’t you wonder where that phrase “pretty penny” came from?  I googled it for you, you know, just in case you really wanted to know.  Apparently it was first used in 1768.  The word “pretty” also means “considerable”, thus a pretty penny means a lot of mullah.  By the way, I just went to get some water and I noticed the other guy does indeed have a coffee with him so he’s learned of some of the benefits of being a VW customer.

Geez…I feel like my writing is totally scattered today.  I apologize, but I have lots running through my mind!  I’m thinking about the campaign…pretty much, I think about that morning, noon and night.  It feels as though it’s a second full-time job.  I really am enjoying it, but it is definitely stressful.  I come home after work, pick up the computer and work late into the evening/early morning hours planning, e-mailing, social networking and organizing.  Sometimes I worry that the pressure will cause the leukemia to return.  That probably sounds incredibly dramatic, but it’s…damnit!  I can’t finish my thought because she keeps shaking that stupid mop!!  Doesn’t she know I’m trying to get stuff done up here?…anywayyyyy, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, it sounds dramatic, but I bet it’s a pretty common phenomenon.

Everyone worries about the effects of stress.  I think for cancer patients, you always wonder when your cells decided to betray you and why.  Was it a combination of factors?  Were the cancer cells always there, lying dormant until some external factor triggered the uncontrolled multiplication?  I know I am now JuLaura, but what if there’s something in my body just waiting to morph her healthy cells into leukemia?  What if forcing myself to stay up late, to stare at the computer for hours, to put off walks with the pups and swims at the pool is sending a message to my body that now might be a good time for any dormant cancer cells to spring to life?  I know we only have six more weeks and chances are I’ll be just fine, but I think it’s interesting that I deal with stress so differently now.  Instead of simply dealing with it and moving on, I worry about it and what it might be doing to my body.

Sooooooo….last week I was nervous to go camping and whitewater rafting because I knew it would be one full weekend where I would not get anything done for the campaign.  But you know what?  It was actually the very best thing I could have done.  I totally unplugged.  Never before have I been so happy when my phone died.  I spent every waking and sleeping moment outside, I sat my stressed out butt on a raft and paddled through class IV and V rapids (without falling out, thank you very much!), I laughed out loud, I met new people, I soaked up the rain and the sun, enjoying both equally.  I roasted marshmallows and looked at the sky, I ate my meals at a picnic table and I fell asleep to a symphony of bugs.  Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better getaway.

I’m just gonna go ahead and be totally cheesy right now…many times on the rafting trip, I thought about Garth Brooks’s song “The River” (I couldn’t find Garth’s version, but I like this one too!).  I’ve always loved the song, but on the trip I just kept thinking “Wow, that song is so true…going down a river is just like living life!”  Each time we came to a big rapid, Joe (our awesome guide) would tell us about what was ahead and where we should swim if we fell in.  When we first got the glimpse of whitewater, my heart started racing, and I concentrated on paddling.  I told myself “there’s no turning back now!  It’s not like I can say, ‘you know what, Joe…I don’t feel like doing this rapid…it’s a little too big for me.’”  Everyone in the raft relied on everyone else to keep the boat rightside up.  Mostly, we looked to Joe who was quite calm with a raft full of first-timers.

There is so much in life that we simply can’t control and facing it head-on is the only way to handle it.  Of course you want to avoid the hydraulics or “holes” when possible (these occur when the “water falls over a ledge, rock, log, or other object. When the water falls off this object, it picks up speed and when it hits the water below, it rolls back on itself, creating what paddlers call a ‘hole’” (from the very handy Answers.com).  I love analogies, I love cheesy quotes and I love sharing them with you.  Below are the lyrics to “The River”.

You know a dream is like a river
Ever changin’ as it flows
And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores
And I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Too many times we stand aside
And let the waters slip away
‘Til what we put off ’til tomorrow
It has now become today
So don’t you sit upon the shoreline
And say you’re satisfied
Choose to chance the rapids
And dare to dance that tide
And I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
There’s bound to be rough waters
And I know I’ll tke soome falls
With the good Lord as my captain
I can make it through them all
And I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Lord, I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Yea

Kinda makes you want to go whitewater rafting, doesn’t it?  I personally cannot WAIT to go back!  And Class VI was a wonderful company.  We are thinking of heading to WV to do the Gauley River in the fall with an overnight rafting trip…anyone care to join us?  You will after you see the photos below!

“To the lost man, to the pioneer penetrating a new country, to the naturalist who wishes to see the wild land at its wildest,
the advice is always the same: follow a river.
The river is the original forest highway. It is nature’s own Wilderness Road.”
- Edwin Way Teale

I hope everyone is doing well.  Thank you for your support, as always.  As much as I whined about the campaign in this post, I am really enjoying the challenge, and you make my participation possible.  $50,000, here we come!!!  By the way, did you know that once we hit the $50,000 mark, we can name an LLS research grant?  I already have a name picked out, but I can’t share that with you unless we meet our goal so help pass along the word.  Share my blog,  my Facebook campaign, YouTube, Twitter and candidate pages with your coworkers, friends and family and let’s ROCK THIS THING!  :)

Love ya,

Julie

PS Sorry for the shameless marketing spiel at the end of the post, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do…this campaign is one of the wave trains that make up my river of life. :)  hahahahaha I’m such a dork!  Enjoy the photos!

PSS Although I wrote “Happy Friday” at the beginning, I didn’t actually get to finish it until Saturday…or technically Sunday morning.

Thoughts on competition.

Written by JKM on April 19th, 2011

It is week 3 of my Man & Woman of the Year (MWOY) campaign for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, (LLS) and team Growth Factor is hard at work planning events, seeking some PR and spreading the word.  It’s quite time consuming, and I’m already looking forward to less computer time when it’s all over!  I can tell you that I will never be in danger of an addiction to technology.  I mean, of course I find it convenient and helpful, but I am so relieved to unplug, to get outside with the pups and to talk to my friends and family (in real life or over the phone :) ).

Not surprisingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about competition lately.  I wrote the following blog post for work last week, and I thought I’d share it with you:

Fundraising…it’s a fairly innocuous word, yet it can instill fear in even the most outgoing of people. As with most challenges in life, the easiest way to address the fear (to steal a little phrase from Nike) is to “just do it”!

When I first joined Team in Training in the spring of 2007, I wasn’t worried about training to speed walk in a half marathon (13.1 miles!), but I was terrified to raise funds. Team in Training (TNT) is an endurance training program offered through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). In exchange for raising money for LLS, participants receive top-notch training and incredible support. I went to a fundraising workshop, I asked TNT alumni their secrets, and I sought the advice of my friends and family, but while out walking the trails, I found that my heart raced more thinking about asking others for money than it did from the speed walking! OK, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean! :)

I soon realized that I needn’t have wasted so much energy worrying. Similar to the whole “if you build it, he will come” concept (from one of my all-time favorite movies!), I discovered that if you ask them, they will give. My main plan of action: e-mails. I created a mailing list of friends and family, took the time to write a thoughtful letter with links to my fundraising page, and clicked “Send”. I organized an event at the restaurant where I used to work, and I sold dry cleaning discount cards for a local business that had agreed to donate all funds from the discount cards to LLS (and credit the funds to whoever sold the cards). At the end of the season, I was one of the top local fundraisers for my event!

There were many times during the 4 months of training that I felt pressured to compete with my fellow teammates. Every time someone organized an event, I would think “Oh geez…maybe I’m not doing enough! They are having so many events!”.  Be very careful of this common phenomenon…it is human nature to compare ourselves to others, and in some ways it may be beneficial, but it is so dangerous!  It often leads to a blow to self confidence which indeed takes the “fun” out of fundraising.

Instead, do as Benjamin Spock advises:  ’Trust yourself.  You know more than you think you do.”  I will keep this thought in mind as I continue on my most ambitious fundraising event yet.  I was nominated to be a candidate for Man & Woman of the Year for LLS in the National Capital Area.  It is a “friendly fundraising competition” held in LLS chapters nationwide.  In 10 weeks (well, actually, 9 now), I must raise a minimum of $10,000.  I set my goal at $50,000, and I’m working hard to raise as much as I can in the ensuing weeks. Each time I get a Facebook invitation for another candidate’s event, my pulse quickens and that familiar worry sets in until I remind myself that everyone’s campaign is different and every candidate has a unique plan.  Some people will have impressive lists of corporate contacts and friends with heavy wallets. I must resist comparing myself to them!

Here is what I’m bringing to the competition: heart, commitment and an amazing network of friends and family. I am also a leukemia survivor, and I have a pretty incredible personal story to share with anyone who will listen. I will work hard, I will spread the word and whatever the monetary outcome, I will be proud of taking action to make a difference.

Since I’m a big fan of motivational quotes, I’ll share one more with you: “Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people” (Nido Qubein). While I don’t like the language of “winners” and “losers”, I appreciate the meaning.

When you set out to fundraise for your Dig Pink event, keep your focus on what you and your team want to achieve. Look to other teams only for guidance if you are looking for ideas. In the end, it is not about the funds that are raised, but rather how the experience has shaped you, your commitment to community and your knowledge about breast cancer. And if you ever want any advice, contact me!! I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned.
OK, one more quote and I swear, I won’t give you any more!! :)


“Use what talent you possess:
The world would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” ~Henry van Dyke

It’s hard to keep the “friendly” in friendly competition because the very definition of competition implies one person will win and many others will lose.  As you can tell from the blog post, I’ve been feeling a tad stressed lately.  The day kick-off began, I woke up early (after going to bed around 2:30 AM doing other preparations for MWOY), went downstairs to the study and pulled up my e-mail.  All in-kind donation requests were due at 9 AM and whoever got the requests in first won the donations.  In-kind donations are donations of services or products that someone donates on my behalf, and LLS would credit me with the estimated cost of those services/products had they purchased them.

We were counting on getting the design donations (which would have been $8,000 toward my campaign!!).  I prepared my e-mails weeks ahead of time and practiced sending them out to Katie and Lori to make sure they came through OK.  Then I wrote the e-mails to send to LLS, and there they sat in my draft folder for weeks.  So getting back to the story, I woke up early and literally stared at the clock on my computer (this is after confirming that the computer goes by Apple time and should thus be synced with any and all timing devices) until it read 9 AM.  I hit the send key and waited to hear back from LLS about how we secured the design donations…I waited and I waited…I hate to say it, folks, but that e-mail never came.

A couple hours later, I learned that someone else won the in-kind donations for design, and I was shocked.  I planned, I did everything as I should have done, and I lost!  I couldn’t help but feel down.  I mean, what a morale buster!  Here it was, kick-off day for my campaign and you know what I did?  I cried.  I know…can you believe it?  And even worse, I cried in front of my boss.  He came in to say good morning and I lost it.  I’m sure it was a combination of fatigue and disappointment, but nonetheless the tears surprised me (and poor Rick :) ).

“Friendly fundraising competition, my a@#”, I told myself.  Then I settled down, and I thought about  the campaign.  This is not about winning, although of course it would be lovely to have the title “Woman of the Year”.  I can totally picture my mug on a Metrobus!  :)  I thought of Ryan and Molly, the Boy & Girl of the Year, and I thought of my own experience.  In the grand scheme of things, winning this competition is  just not a big deal.  Participating in it is an honor.  It’s that whole perspective thing I talk about all the time.  I am here, I am healthy, I am helping others, and that, in essence, is what truly matters.

Don’t get me wrong…I’ll still get stressed when I get a Facebook invite from another candidate or when I read about someone else’s campaign, and my head will start to pound when the e-mails start piling up.  I think it’s only natural to wonder “am I doing enough compared to him/her”?  As long as it doesn’t make me lose focus in my own campaign, I’ll do just fine.  And you know what?  I’m already a winner because “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” hahahahahahaha  Sorry, I had to lighten things up a bit…it was getting entirely too serious.

One more thing before I sign off and hit the hay.  Check out this AWESOME trailer Katie and her friends Joey and Tevarris made:  “Second Chances”.  You will love it!!  And enjoy the many photos.

Love,

Julie

Looking for a little motivation.

Written by JKM on April 6th, 2011

“Motivation is what gets you started.  Habit is what keeps you going.” ~Jim Ryun

Well, the motivation is certainly there!  It’s that gorgeous dress I wore as the maid of honor in Lori’s wedding.  In my mind, I dream of myself, fit and toned, walking across the stage to my at-bat song June 11th at the Man & Woman of the Year gala.  The habit part though…that’s a little more difficult to grasp.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty proud of myself because I have been swimming 3 times now in the past week and a half!  I haven’t made it to the weight room yet, but it’s on my to-do list.  The first time I went to the gym to swim, I felt totally overwhelmed.  Thoughts of the campaign constantly flood my mind, and I’m already tired of technology.  I feel like I see the glow of the screen from my computer and phone even in my sleep, but I forced myself to pack a swim bag and head over to the pool after work last Monday.

When I walked into the locker room, I thought “how will I ever make a habit of this?  I’m tired already!  It smells in here.  I’m bored.  I wish I had someone to work out with.  Will I ever be able to create a routine?”  I changed into my swimsuit, grabbed my cap and goggles and somehow kept moving toward the pool.  I jumped in, adjusted my swim gear and started with my favorite stroke, freestyle.  At first, all I could think was “only one lap…how will I ever be able to swim 10 or 20?  How can I do this several days a week?”.  After a couple laps though, I instinctively started counting my strokes, my rhythm keeper while swimming.  My pulse sped up, yet my mind slowed down.  I thought to myself, “this is doable.”

Right then and there, in the middle of the lap lane, I decided that I wouldn’t judge myself harshly if I didn’t make it to the gym every day.  As much as I would love to have the time and the energy to dedicate myself to alternating swimming and weightlifting every day, I know it doesn’t fit into my life right now.  I think improving your health is as much about realizing what you can’t press your body to do as it is about challenging yourself to do more.  When I changed my thinking, I fell into an easy pattern and I actually began enjoying the swim.  Imagine that!!!!

So here’s to creating habits (good ones, that is :) ) and finding joy, strength and relaxation in whatever exercise you enjoy!

Love,

Julie

PS There’s quite a mix of photos…enjoy!

PSS Watch this video of the Boy & Girl of the Year for the National Capital Area…keeping Ryan, Molly and their families in my thoughts is always so encouraging.  Remember, the Man & Woman of the Year campaign is all done in their honor, and what an honor it is.

The Growth Factor’s Kickin’ it Off!!!

Written by JKM on March 31st, 2011

Surprisingly, I’m relatively awake for 1:13 AM, especially for someone working with one unit less of blood!  That’s right…I had my second therapeutic phlebotomy tonight!  Maybe that was bad blood or something…it must have been holding me back because any other night, I would be exhausted by now…I feel like I’ve had a transfusion…that’s how much energy I have at 1:15 AM (yes, it’s taken me 2 minutes to write these last couple of sentences :) ).

I’m pretty sure though that it doesn’t have anything to do with the blood and it’s just pure adrenalin.  You see, today is kick-off day for my Man & Woman of the Year campaign!!!!!  From now until June 11th, The Growth Factor (my team name) will be working hard to meet our goal of $50,000!  The past few hours, I’ve been busy putting the finishing touches on e-mails, figuring out how to do mail merge on the Mac, printing up address labels, fixing a printer (why do these things always break right when we’re in the thick of things? :) ) and social networking my little heart out.  And it is all for ONE. IMPORTANT. CAUSE…

“to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families” (the mission of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society).

From blood transfusions to phelbotomies…from fatigue to energy…from diagnosis to newfound health…these past six years have seen many transformations, and this campaign is my ultimate gesture of gratitude to an organization that makes second…and third chances possible.

Happy kick-off Day to everyone!!  If you find me whining at all over the stress of the campaign the next ten weeks, kindly remind me of this post and how far I’ve come.  It is an honor to be able to help others.  I think Calvin Coolidge put it a little more eloquently:

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”

And here’s a little motivational photo to get everyone in the fundraising-kick-butt-state-of-mind:

You’re ready to help me kick some butt now, right?!!  Woohoo!!!!!!  Here’s to ten weeks of fantastic,  fascinating fundraising festivities!

Love,

Julie

For more info, visit my Man & Woman of the Year campaign page.