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November 2014 I got a phone call – invasive ductile carcinoma. It felt like a death sentence.
I had 3 young children and I had breast cancer. I was 37 years old and I really didn’t know anyone who lived through a cancer diagnosis. I had lost my grandma Nancy, my mom, and my father-in-law, all just a few years apart. I thought “this is where my story ends.”
As with most cancer diagnoses, things began to move very quickly and I had to focus my sight on the treatment ahead. The following April I had just finished 6 rounds of chemo and was mentally preparing for bilateral mastectomy when I got a text from my neighbor Leigh. She told me that she also had breast cancer and would begin treatment very soon. I was in such shock at the time I could hardly believe her words.
Leigh quickly made cancer the best club that none of us ever wanted to be a part of. We went to yoga together, acupuncture, got matching “Like A Boss” tattoos, and drank all the turmeric golden lattes our bellies would hold. Leigh found First Descents and several of us signed up to go surfing in Santa Cruz.
Leigh never got to go on that trip. She passed away in February of 2016.
In September of 2016, after much juggling and lots of help from family and friends, I found myself at Pigeon Point in Santa Cruz, CA with this crazy crew of cancer survivors. We spent a week away from real life, surfing, laughing and crying. We joked that if we put all of our parts together we would make one whole person. To the surf instructors we were not cancer survivors to be coddled. We were expected to carry our boards to and from the beach each day. Our wet suits were sandy and cold each morning we put them on. But we found healing in those waters and made connections with other cancer survivors that can only come from walking through the fire. We learned to surf, we overcame our fears, and I left knowing that I had to give back.
I saw on FD’s website that they had registrations available for the New York City Marathon if you were willing to fundraise through the Out Living It Project. The next thing I knew, my husband and 6 friends from Denver were all in the midst of training for the race in November 2017. I was 3 years post treatment and ready to move forward. We had a huge party at a local bar to raise money. We were able to get a few friends to donate kegs of beer for the event and we had custom “Like A Boss” hats made to sell. All in all, I think we raised over $50k for First Descents in memory of Leigh.
Training for the marathon gave me LOTS of time alone to reflect on why I run. I run for my family. For Andy, Henry, Lila, and Naomi. After 6 rounds of chemo, bilateral mastectomy, and 25 rounds of radiation, we had to rely on friends and family so much. I used to try to do it all myself. But when I was going through treatment, I couldn’t do any of it. I know now that they can do life without me, but selfishly I want to be here. I want to be a part of their story.
I run for my mom, Lynda, for my grandma Nancy, and for my father-in-law Roger. I run for my neighbor Leigh. I run for all my breasties. They were the first ones to call me after I was diagnosed. I was the first one they thought of when diagnosed. I run for my FD family, who I call “Minimavs.” . I didn’t want to go to “cancer camp”. I arrived in Santa Cruz to go surfing with a wall built around myself and when Saturday rolled around, I was afraid to go home. We woke up each morning, packed our lunch wraps for the day, pulled on those cold, sandy wetsuits, and went surfing. Our instructors showed us that we were the strongest people on the beach that week.
I run for the sweet boy down the street that didn’t get a chance to see his 13th birthday. I only shared a few moments with you, but you changed my heart forever.. I run for my village. Because I know a day will come when I won’t be able to run, and I know they will all run for me.
These days, I do not run as much as I used to. During Covid most of my running consisted of jogging around Sloans Lake in Denver with my 8 year old daughter Naomi on her bike beside me and all of her stuffies in tow. Our family still finds ways to give back to the First Descents community. My husband, Andy, did the Grand Traverse Triple Crown in 2019 to help raise money for First Descents. He has been a pacer several times for the Leadville 100 Trail Run in support of athletes raising money for FD.
Inspired by First Descents and my community, I still find the time to out live my diagnosis each weekend, whether it is climbing at the local crag with my family or skiing on the mountain or in the backcountry with them. When we are out there, it isn’t always easy. There are tears more often than not, the fear of the unknown…How much longer? Can I do this? How do you do it? Where do you find the strength mom? I don’t always have the best answers for my kids – the words that will put their fear at ease. But I can always promise them that we will get through it together and they will never be alone.
Henry was 6 years old when I was first diagnosed, the oldest of 3. He is now almost 13 and I find myself on the other end of the climbing rope from him more often than not. When I am up there on the wall, he knows what I need, his calm words of encouragement, gently urging me on. When we are skiing in the backcountry, I am perched on a small cliff, my family most often below me calmly urging me on. Don’t worry mom, you’ve got this. I am brave for them because I get to be here for now. I am so lucky that I continue to be a part of their story.
Cancer has changed my life forever, for the better. I am a better mom, wife, and friend than I was before I was diagnosed. I am so thankful to be a part of the First Descents community. And always on the lookout for those bracelets and the FD logo when I am out there. Let’s keep doing the things that make us feel truly alive. And if you see me out there with my FD/Like A Boss hat, please say hello and share your story. I am always so blessed when I have the opportunity to share mine.
Like my sweet friend Grinder once told me, the only run that you will ever regret, is the one you skip.
Donate today to help us hit our $50,000 Summer Campaign Goal. With your support, we will provide the healing power of adventure to more caregivers, healthcare workers, and young adults impacted by cancer and MS. #OutLivingIt