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  • Cheryl

If you're not already aware, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And I have a confession to make: It used to drive me nuts, not being able to turn around without seeing pink ribbons all over everything from T-shirts to travel mugs. There are so many cancers in the world, unfortunately, and it seemed (and still does) that none of them get even a fraction of the attention that breast cancer does. On principle, I only got involved with the pink ribbon when I couldn't avoid it.


And then came my own breast cancer diagnosis on October 2, 2018. As one of my cousins commented, I took Breast Cancer Awareness Month seriously. After I got the phone call from the doctor with the news, I called my love, and then I called my parents. By that time, the surrealness of the doctor's announcement had worn off, the reality of the situation had hit me, and the tears had started. I have to laugh now at the memory of declaring to my mother between sobs, "I'm still not wearing a pink ribbon! I don't care! I'm not wearing it!"


Naturally, my obstinance where the pink ribbon is concerned has faded - I'm okay with it now, although I still resent that there isn't such a fervor over other cancers in which so little research and treatment progress has been made. The "pink sisterhood" is real. I've lost track of how many other breast cancer survivors I've met, just in striking up passing conversations with strangers. In Florida last spring, my love and I were sitting at an outdoor concert, chatting with a woman who sat in front of us. My love told her that I had just finished radiation for breast cancer two months earlier, and that this was sort of our celebration vacation. At that, the woman sitting next to her turned around to face us and reached out to take my hand. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop on your conversation," she said, "but I'm a fifteen-year breast cancer survivor myself." That kind of thing happens all the time. And that kind of camaraderie, for me, spills over to *any* kind of cancer patient or survivor.


When you're fighting cancer - or any serious illness - support means everything. I learned that lesson on Day 1, and now I've become one of those who reaches out as a survivor when I hear of someone else fighting the fight. I identify with them in ways I never understood before, which is a blessing and a curse: It's wonderful that something so positive and compassionate can come from something so horrid, and yet along with that identification comes survivor's guilt when you hear that someone lost the battle.


Last year, around this time, I saw in the media that a former "America's Next Top Model" contestant named Jael Strauss was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer on October 2, the same date I was. I'd never watched the show and didn't know who she was, but the fact that we were diagnosed with the same disease on the same day made me feel a kinship with her, and I Googled her and kept track of updates on her condition. Just a few days before my lumpectomy in December, I learned that she had passed away. Her cancer was so aggressive and had already metastasized by the time it was discovered. She was only 34 years old. We were diagnosed the same day, and she'd lost the fight while I was winning mine. She was gone, and I was still here and on the road to complete recovery. That was the very first of many, many times I choked up and thought, "Why her and not me? Why me and not her?" Why was I so lucky? Why was she not?


A friend was diagnosed with cancer last year and successfully completed treatment, only to be diagnosed with a recurrence this past week. Another friend - herself a cancer survivor - posted a few days ago that a family member, who had been her inspiration, lost her own battle with cancer recently. I still, to this day, think about Jael Strauss. Some of these people I know personally; others I don't. But every single time I hear about someone beginning a new battle, or someone losing theirs, I still think, "Why them and not me? Why me and not them?" The guilt is real.


I'm nearly one year out now - I go for my first post-cancer mammogram in exactly two weeks. I can't say I don't worry about it. I'm hopeful for good results, obviously, but I know that if my films come back clear, I'm going to feel guilty. I think that's a normal, human part of being a survivor of any kind. I don't dwell on it; I acknowledge it, and I cry if I need to, but I remind myself that it's okay to be healthy and alive. And then I get back to living, until the next time.



Me in one of my favorite shirts, on the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis.


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  • Cheryl

When I moved back to my hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania nearly ten years ago, I decided to learn yoga. I'd worked myself into shape at home in my DC apartment, using my own dumbbells and The FIRM's TransFIRMer system, which is a combination 6-inch box step and 8-inch box step that can be used separately, stacked together for a 14-inch step, or turned into a inclined step - has anyone else heard of this or used it? The FIRM also put out a series of workout DVDs that went along with the TransFIRMer, and over time, I got into the best physical shape of my life. I was still doing The FIRM in my new home, but I'd always been curious about yoga, and I did some research and learned that a 6-week beginners' yoga class was being taught at the local community arts center.


When that 6-week class was over, I immediately signed up for the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that. And when the instructor asked if anyone might be interested in a more advanced yoga class (it was pretty much the same group of people who kept rejoining every 6-weeks), I signed up for that one. This went on for about a year, until life intervened and my schedule no longer had room for it. It wasn't the meditative aspect I was after, because I freely admit that that part of it was lost on me - my mind never stopped working and turning over all the things on my to-do list, or things that were bothering me, or things I was trying to find solutions for. It was the physical aspect I enjoyed, the stretching and using of my body in ways that were so different from what I was used to with The FIRM.


Fast-forward to the present day. It's been a year since I did any semblance of a workout regimen, and I've undergone two surgeries and radiation in that year. My body both looks and feels different, and I don't like it at all. I've missed my yoga practice since I stopped going all those years ago, and always had the intention of getting back into it but never did. I wanted the same instructor I'd had, and so I Googled her and discovered she taught at a yoga studio not far from the farm that offered different types of yoga - sculpting, Pilates, alignment, flow. I bought a two-week "newbie" package that allowed me to take as many classes as I wanted at their two locations.


My two weeks ended yesterday, and this morning, I bought a three-month membership that continues to allow me unlimited access. I hadn't realized how physically fit I'd been back then until now. I no longer have any core strength or balance; my ankles will no longer keep me upright, and my arms will no longer push me into bridge poses. Along these lines, I tried to do an old favorite cardio DVD from The FIRM the other day and had to stop multiple times throughout each individual set to catch my breath, when I used to be able to breeze right through the entire half-hour workout without thinking twice about it.


Yet being at the yoga studio, regardless of what class I take, feels incredible. It feels *right.* The atmosphere is so so positive, so supportive and encouraging; the instructors are wonderful, and all the new people I've met in the classes are friendly and welcoming. More than that, it feels good to stretch my body and start using it again, regardless of how difficult some things are. And I find that this time around, my mind quiets when I'm there - my only focus is on my body, and how good it feels to move and stretch again, and how grateful I am to be able to do so. And I feel determined and excited to start rebuilding.


Today I'll try that cardio workout again, and dig out my other DVDs. I'm dreading the struggle it's going to be - it's gonna HURT! :-( - but I tell myself it's okay to go slow. There's no rush and no competition. The important thing is that I'm doing it.


You can always start over, no matter the situation or how hard it is. As long as you have YOU, you're okay.


Have a great weekend!


Cheryl



I look forward to being able to do this pose without falling over!

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When season two of "Anything But Routine" ended in August, I decided to take September "off" to devote more of my attention to other things: my novel and my overall health and well-being. And it was a smart move. Sometimes, even when I think I'm doing everything right - work-wise, health-wise, life-wise - I'm not. Or I'm doing okay but I could be doing more, or doing things differently. This past month has been a necessary, well-needed, well-received "reset."


There was - is - a lot of rebuilding to do, not just physically, but mentally, as well. Once you've been diagnosed with cancer - especially in my case, when I had absolutely no symptoms whatsoever and it was discovered during a routine mammogram - it's tough not to become a hypochondriac, and that's something I wrestle with every single day. To my way of thinking, I didn't even know I had cancer, so who's to say every little twinge isn't something serious, right? And let's face it - I'm not getting any younger, and my body is showing normal, run-of-the-mill signs of aging that it would show even without cancer. It's just my skewed mindset that magnifies every little twinge and automatically assumes the worst. I need to work on that.


I went to see someone about foot and knee problems I've been having for more than a year, and learned that they're easily remedied. And, after bloodwork, I finally started on medication to get my thyroid back on track. AND, after years of just doing yoga on my own at home with DVDs, I tracked down my old yoga instructor and got a membership to the studio that's allowed me to take three entirely different yoga classes this week alone - one sculpting, one core, and one stretching. And maybe it's psychological, maybe it isn't, but I can feel the overall difference in myself - I'm not as creaky, not as stiff, and I can see my old shape and form coming back when I look in the mirror. It's so incredible to finally be able to use my body again and start feeling like my pre-cancer self.


I renewed old friendships and began striking up new ones, and had fun dates with my love, and all of this has been just as beneficial as seeing to my physical health. It's too easy for me to get tunnel vision and focus just on one thing when that one thing troubles me most, and that's what I've been focused on for the better part of the past year. I need to work on that, too.


I went through my novel, made decisions once and for all as to what to include and what to save for future books, and formulated a plan, and now I don't feel so overwhelmed by it - there's not much left to write, and the end is in sight! I was reminded of how much I love the story and the characters I've created, and how much I enjoy hanging out in their beach community with them and their quirky neighbors - not to mention the beings that linger in the shadows, and all the things I know are in store for all of them, good and bad. As it stands now, I'm on track to publish by the end of the year! And as this will be the first book in a series, the story - and the fun - will continue into next year.


And now that September's almost over, it's time to turn my attention to creating season three of "Anything But Routine"! The new lineup came together in the blink of an eye - in fact, I ran out of room in season three and already have people on the list for season four! All of the upcoming season's spotlight subjects are excited to participate, which makes me all the more excited to get started on creating their episodes. I'm looking forward to learning more about each of their stories and getting back into the recording booth to share those stories with you. The season three premiere will air on Tuesday, November 5 - don't forget!


This month was the perfect ending to the summer. I feel better than I have in a very long time, and I'm ready to get back to it all.


Have a great weekend!


Cheryl

The Minx helps me work out - sort of.


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