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Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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Two years and 111 blogs later, it is time for me to sign off and pass my blog on to the next person who has a story to tell. I have thought and thought and, after much discussion with my mom and dad, I have decided that I have written everything I can for this blog. I have poured my heart into it and shared a piece of my family that a lot of people don’t know and won’t ever get to see.

One thing I have realized over the past two years is just how special family is. If it weren’t for mine, I can honestly say that I would not be able to survive- emotionally, physically, mentally, or in any other way. Through all of my ups and downs my family is the one thing that has been there no matter what. Especially in these past few years, I’ve realized just how much I can depend on them. My mom is a survivor and a fighter and a woman I hope to be; my dad is my best friend; my sister is my role model; and they are all my heroes.

Because of my parents, my greatest goal and passion is to save a life. I’m not brave like them though, so I had no idea how I was going to do that. Until I discovered writing in Mrs. Drury’s English class when I was fifteen. Now I can say that I write to save a life. I write like no one is going to read my words so that way I can be honest. I have no idea who reads these words, but I sure do hope that they have touched just one life in even the slightest way.

I began writing this blog because I wanted to share my story in hopes that it would help someone else get through what I went through. I want people to know that cancer is not the end of the world. For us, it was the beginning. Despite the fear of not knowing what tomorrow holds, despite the drains that made Mom look like the alien opera singer from The Fifth Element, despite everything that mom had to go through, we came out alright. And even better than before.

If I leave anyone with anything at all, I hope that it is confidence and hope. Confidence that there isn’t anything you can’t do. And hope that it will get better.

I thank everyone who has helped my family from the bottom of my heart, especially the Liesman’s. Y’all have no idea how grateful I am for everything you have done for us. It is because of you that my family is where we are.

And for everyone who has taken the time to read what this 20 year old has to say, I am forever indebted to you. Thank you for believing in me.

In the words of the great Michael Buble: “You are not alone and I am there with you…when you feel like you’re done and the darkness has won…you’re not lost.”

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Monday, May 23, 2011

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The only time I’ve ever seen my mom vulnerable was when she was going through her breast cancer treatment. That was the first time she didn’t have control. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now that I do, it’s a pretty scary thing.

I’ve never felt vulnerable before. I’ve never had to trust someone with my life when it wasn’t it my control. I’ve never known what it’s like to be afraid of what tomorrow does or does not hold.

But looking at my mom then, and looking at her now, I see a different woman. I think being vulnerable, letting ourselves be vulnerable, changes us. It takes us to a place where we have never been so afraid before, but we come out of it even more beautiful than we ever thought possible. It teaches us to trust people. And when you have someone you can trust, you gain a confidence you didn’t know was there.

I think at a point in all of our lives we feel vulnerable. It is one of the scariest feelings in the world, but it’s one of those that we have to have in order to make that next step in our lives. To let go of all control, to trust someone else with who your life, will only help you find yourself even more.

My mom was 47 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even then she was still becoming even better than I ever thought possible. And she still is, every day.

Being vulnerable, being afraid, is not a challenge. It is an opportunity. It is for us to surprise ourselves with how cool the world can be when we put faith in total strangers. These emotions were given to us for a reason, so why not take advantage? Why not truly feel what they are like?

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Crossing Over

Sunday, May 15, 2011

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One thing a lot of people don’t know or realize about my mom is that she was a pharmaceutical rep who sold breast cancer medications before she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. She was in the business for 23 years and can still tell you everything you would ever want to know about Nolvadex, Arimidex, and Faslodex. Some of her doctors even started calling her “Madame X.”

The fact that Mom ended up receiving the medication she sold, one would think, prepared her better than anyone for what she was about to experience. But that wasn’t really the case.

Scientifically speaking, Mom knew wholeheartedly that she was going to be alright on the medicines she took during and after her treatment. She made her living off of explaining how they worked to doctors all over the country. She was (and still is) an expert. But she will tell you before anyone that no drug rep, pharmacist, or doctor, can prepare you psychologically and emotionally for the effects of breast cancer treatment.

Of course it is a battle that can be fought and won, but any survivor will tell you that it is by no means easy. But then again, no battle worth fighting ever is.

According to Mom, once you “cross over” from the scientific side to the patient side, it is a completely different world. For her, it was a point of no return. After becoming a survivor, Mom didn’t, couldn’t, go back to the pharmaceutical world because she couldn’t sell the medication the way a sales rep was supposed to sell.

Mom knew how hard it was to go through what she had, and she couldn’t just smile, tell someone it was going to be ok and walk away. She wanted to stay and tell the person where to go, what to do, and how to do this and that. But that wasn’t part of her job description.

Life takes you in directions you didn’t even know existed. Most of the time I think it is to see how you handle what is thrown. Whatever comes your direction is not meant to keep you down. It’s meant to help you connect to a different part of yourself, to a different part of others. It keeps you human and reminds you what’s most beautiful in life.

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The Junior Jitters

Monday, May 09, 2011

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It’s official, I am a junior in college. The first thing my mom said to me after my last final was, “Amy, have you learned everything you possibly could this year?” My answer? I don’t know, but I don’t want to learn any more.

A while ago I wrote about the “Sophomore Slump.” It takes place during your sophomore year of college, and is basically a time when you are trying to figure out who you are and where you’re going. To say I merely experienced that would be an understatement.

I lived in Europe without my parents for a semester, trying to navigate through an entire foreign continent speaking only English and a small amount of Spanish. I had to readjust to living in the United States before my second semester, which was probably one of the most work-heavy semesters I will ever have. I lost my best friend over a petty argument, learned how to stand up for myself, and tore my ACL in my knee for the second time. All while trying to meld European Amy with normal Amy and figure out who I was.

It was a pretty exciting year.

I think, I hope, it’s safe to say that, on a personal level, this was one of the toughest years I have yet to experience. But despite all of the obstacles and challenges that dared me to be anything but myself, I survived. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have done it any differently.

Out of the mess that was my Sophomore Slump came a world of amazing opportunities. I got to live in EUROPE for goodness sake! And after the falling out with my best friend, I felt like I had no one to talk to outside of my family. But then I got to be really close with two of the girls on my soccer team, who have made me feel more “at home” than ever before. It’s funny how people come into our lives when we need them most. From these two girls I’ve learned that who I am is good enough; I’ve learned that the only thing I can be is myself and people will either like me or not, and either one is ok.

I also found out a few weeks ago that I got my dream job in college- I’m going to be a Resident Assistant in my favorite dorm next year, helping all of the freshman adjust to college life and making sure their college experience has been as incredible as mine has thus far.
Everything has fallen into place, and I can say, with immense confidence, that I am so content and happy being me. It took a lot of work and tears to get here, but it’s a fabulous place to be.

I’m halfway through college and I have no idea where or what I’m going to be in two years. Mom calls this the “Junior Jitters.” But I come from a family of survivors. And if we can get through cancer and the Sophomore Slump, then there isn’t anything we can’t do.

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Easter Surprises

Sunday, May 01, 2011

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Six years and one week ago today my mom came home from the hospital after her surgery. We got her all snuggled into bed, trying to avoid looking at her surgical drains, and tried to figure out what was going to happen next. It was Easter Sunday and Mom’s next task was to recover from the bilateral mastectomy she just had and prepare for her first round of chemotherapy two weeks later- on her birthday.

That Easter was one of the best Easters I can remember. We weren’t able to go to church, but the Easter spirit still made its way into our home. Our closest family friends came to visit, toting a complete feast and Easter goodies. All of the people we loved were there, and it ended up being one of the last Easters we had with my grandmother.

Since then, Easter has been my favorite holiday because it represents everything I hold dear to my heart: the thanks I have for my mom’s survival, the gratitude I have towards all of the people that have helped us when we needed it, and most of all, my family.

I remember the Easter egg hunt my sister and I had the year after Mom came home- we still have them, even though we are both in our twenties. My grandfather had an extensive collection of coins and, after he passed away, Grandma would put them in plastic eggs and hide them around the yard for Katie and I to find. Apparently her hiding skills got better as Katie and I got older. There was one specific egg, the last one, which we couldn’t find to save our lives. But my parents insisted we keep searching.

The final egg, a blue one, was hidden in a hole in the limestone of our house. Katie and I both saw it at the same time, and just laughed at the fact that it was hidden on the wall. I think it had a twenty dollar bill in it, which was the grand prize of the hunt, so Katie and I split it.

For the first time since I’ve been in college, I got to spend Easter at home this year. Mom flew me in from Boston on Thursday night and I came back to school that Monday. This year the four of us spent Easter with another special family, and I got to help my two favorite kids- ages 4 and 8- find the eggs hidden throughout the yard. I smiled as they cracked open each egg, excited every time they found a new treat. And I couldn’t help but think about the Easter we had seven years ago.

Like the eggs left behind by the Bunny himself, every Easter holds a new and exciting surprise. We never know what it hides, but it always promises an adventure as we try to figure out what it is.

Every time I come home, be it from school or the grocery store, I look at the hole in the limestone and smile, imagining the blue egg that once hid there, nestled in, and waiting to be opened. I smile as I think of my mom, healthy, and of my family, happy.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

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When I first began writing my blog I wrote about Harriet- my Percheron horse and love of my life who passed away a few years ago. Losing her was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to face. She was my life.

My mom called me a couple of days ago when I was in class. I checked my voicemail and heard a tone in her voice that I don’t know I’ve ever heard before. She sounded better than happy. She was elated and almost awestruck. One of her dear, life-long friends had called and asked if she and I could help them out with something. They had just gotten two new horses- three-year-old Percheron brothers- and wanted to know if we could help train them. Of course, I called her back and excitedly agreed to this endeavor. After I thought about it though, I got a little lump in my throat, and wondered if this was something I could actually do.

I have ridden maybe three times since Harriet’s death three years ago. And all of those times I rode my sister’s horse, Murphy. I still have trouble bringing myself to get back in the saddle. I feel like I’m betraying Harriet. Often times I tell myself if I’m going to ride it will be her, and since she is no longer with me physically, that’s poses quite the challenge.

I talked to Mom again yesterday. The first thing she said to me was, “Amy, I am covered in dirt, I’m so tired, but I had a blast. You have GOT to meet those two babies. We have an appointment with them on Friday.” Again, my mom had that jubilant tone I had heard just days before.

Harriet is a tough subject to talk about. For a lot of people, I’m sure she’s “just a horse.” But if you know my family, you know that there are times we love our animals more than each other. They ARE family (there have even been a few occasions when my sister and I have brought the horses into the house). The family that reached out to us for help with their babies probably has no idea how utterly thankful I am to them. I haven’t even met their horses yet- that’s coming in a few days- but I feel like they will bring a part of Harriet back for me. And that is one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive.

I’m nervous to meet them. I’m excited, I’m anxious, I have no idea how I will react to riding a Percheron other than my own; but somehow, I’m feeling like Harriet is going to be there with me. I’m slowly getting closer and closer to being alright with riding again, and this will be my toughest challenge to date.

That’s the thing about challenges, though. They aren’t supposed to be easy. They are supposed to make us do something we might not want to, in order to make us stronger. They come when we need them most, even if we don’t think so. And somehow, they make us better people.

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Go Billies!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

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This week I have decided to brag just a little bit. My dad is in his first year coaching high school boy’s soccer, and he made quite the impact, if I do say so myself.

At my high school, soccer was never really taken seriously. We all worked so incredibly hard and poured our hearts into the game, not because we received recognition, but because we just love to play. The players there are still the same way- playing for nothing but love of the game.

This year was a little bit different. This year, the varsity boy’s soccer team made it to the final round of the Regional Tournament, just one game away from going to State. This was further than any soccer team in the history of that high school has ever gone, and my dad had a large something to do with it.

I spoke with him on the phone after the game and he was disappointed because he felt like he didn’t do a good enough job, almost as if he let the team down. What I tried to remind him of, what I’m hoping to do now, is to help him realize that he is a part of this team, and he has made such an impact on those boys’ lives. Because of what the team (coaches included) has done this year, soccer will finally be taken seriously at school. All of the kids who stay after the bell to practice, who get home late after games only to stay awake doing homework, will be recognized for their hard work.

It takes a lot of courage to do what these boys have done, to fight for the thing they love even when a lot of people don’t think they will make it. They did.

I wanted to tell their story because I am so incredibly proud of them. I’m proud of my dad for believing in a group of boys with such fight in them. I’m proud of the team for never once saying they couldn’t do it. After all, who told them they couldn’t?

I think we can all learn something from them. It’s cliché, but they are the perfect example…never give up. This world has too much to offer for us not to reach for every chance we are given. Even when those chances are disguised as burdens, there is always an opportunity for us to prove to ourselves that there isn’t anything we can’t do, no battle we can’t win.

To the Battlin’ Billie Soccer Boys, to my dad: I am so proud of you all. Thank you for never giving up.

And Mom, the chocolate chip cookies you sent to them made all the difference in the world.

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Bowling and Breast Cancer

Sunday, April 03, 2011

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I went candle pin bowling this weekend and was trying to figure out different strategies to help myself win. I am extremely competitive, probably more than I should be, and I kept wondering how to get those 10 pins down with such a tiny bowling ball. At times, it seemed unattainable.

Cancer is kind of the same way. To get a strike, you have to knock down a whole bunch of pins along the way. It’s difficult with a tiny ball, so why not get bigger ammo?

I know there are a lot of people who want to help patients and families battling cancer, but just don’t know how. So, I’ve compiled a list of five things that helped my mom beat her cancer. With a bigger army fighting, those pins will fall faster, and a strike doesn’t seem so impossible.

1. Ask questions. Cancer is surrounded by such a stigma that many people don’t think patients want to talk about it. In my family, the only way we survived was by asking about things we didn’t know. What does a port do? Why does Mom have surgical drains? What does chemo feel like? Talking about these things makes it even more real, which is why a lot of people avoid it, but it also stirs conversation and kicks the giant elephant out of the room. People need to know what is going on. Patients need someone to talk to outside of the doctor’s office who isn’t afraid to really know how they are feeling.

2. Offer to make dinner one night. Life doesn’t stop when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Bills still have to get paid, kids have to go to school, and dishes have to be washed. One of the best things people did for my family was make us dinner. One family in particular would bring us meals three and four times a week. It was such a treat to see their smiling faces at our door, and to know that someone was there for anything and everything.

3. Be a chauffeur. To chemo treatments, to school, to the grocery store, even out for ice cream. Being trapped at home all day gets monotonous, and a little sunshine and a familiar face makes everything better.

4. Don’t pretend cancer doesn’t exist. This kind of goes along with asking questions. A lot of people don’t know how to act when they are faced with a friend or family who has been diagnosed with cancer. Don’t brush it under the rug. Acknowledge it, face it, and don’t treat anyone any differently- they are still the same person, just with a few bad cells inside.

5. Be there. I had no idea what I was supposed to do when my mom was going through chemotherapy. I was thirteen, was terrible at making sandwiches, couldn’t drive, and was unable to get the child proof cap off of medicine bottles. The only thing I knew to do was sit with Mom, even when she was asleep, and be by her side. It’s easy to say, “Oh she’s resting, I don’t want to bother her,” when you don’t know what to do. But no one likes being alone, especially when they are sick. Just go sit with them, read to them, talk about the cute boy at school. Just be there.

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Don't Silence Your Voice

Sunday, March 27, 2011

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I went to a play this week about women in Juarez who are being brutally murdered and overlooked by authorities. Their stories are being brushed aside, forgotten about. The play was a staged reading that was performed by an all female cast in the library of my school, and contained actual testimonials from these women’s mothers and sisters. There was even a diary entry read that was made by a woman just two days before her death.

The purpose of the play was to shed light and bring awareness to the plight of these women. Even living so close the U.S.-Mexico border, I had no idea that this was going on, so I’m sure most people don’t either.

When I left the play, I immediately called home and started bawling on the phone to my parents. I wasn’t crying because I was afraid, but for the first time, I was crying because of an injustice in this world that I thought was unfair. I was so angry and frustrated that all I could do was cry. My twentieth birthday was two weeks ago, and my reaction to this play showed me for the first time that I am growing up.

It used to be that when I saw scary movies or television shows, I would get scared that whatever was on the screen would happen to me. I assumed that I would have the same reaction to the play, but that wasn’t the case. All I could say to my mom and dad was “it’s not fair.”

Hearing the stories of these women, seeing girls my age act out their lives, made me proud to be a woman for the first time in my life. By no means have I been ashamed of being a woman, I just never really thought about it. I have been surrounded by strong women, by survivors, my entire life. As far as I’m concerned, to be woman is to be a hero. I just never felt it, until now.

My mom and dad both have always expressed to me the importance of finding my own voice and believing in it. But the voices of the women of Juarez have been silenced, and it is our job to speak up for them.

For survivors of all ages, races, genders, I ask that you believe in your voice. Be proud of who you are and where you come from. Be proud of what you look like. Be proud of the peach fuzz on your head that will sprout when you are done with chemo. And don’t silence your voice or stand for those who silence others’.

They are too beautiful to not be shared with the world.

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Find Your Happy Place

Sunday, March 20, 2011

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Off-season soccer practice officially started this week. Sixteen college girls in a stuffy gym from 6:00-7:30am, three times a week- it’s not the prettiest sight.

My alarm goes off at 5:30. I lie in bed for five minutes, thinking about how much I don’t want to go run around, and then my feet hit the ground and I’m up. In ten minutes I’m outside, walking to the gym as one or two cabs pass by with their headlights still on. I have so much homework, a paper due in two days, and I get my midterm grades back today. I am so tired.

Within ten more minutes, I’m moving, laughing, kicking the ball around with my team and everything seems to go away. It’s the moment when I am nothing but my sweaty self, in a gym, doing what I love.

Everyone has that one thing that makes all the worries go away, even if only for a little while. I am lucky to have a healthy, happy family, and my only worries consist of school work. But even that gets stressful. I haven’t played in over a year because I chose to study abroad during soccer season. I don’t regret my decision for a second- I got to live in Europe for three months, so I think the trade off is fair to say the least. What I forgot during that year, however, was how much I love the game.

On a trip to Barcelona, I got to see FC Barcelona, one of Spain’s professional soccer teams and my personal favorite, play. It was honestly the coolest thing I have ever seen- I even cried when I saw my soccer heroes step onto the field (I know, it’s cheesy).

Being in the gym last week brought that passion back. It was the first time in a year that I got to stretch my legs out, experience the pangs of cleats scraping against my shins (it sounds painful but it’s part of the game that you actually grow to miss), and feel that little leap of my heart when I scored a goal. My world for those 90 minutes was the game, and I was back in love again.

I have now spent 367 words telling you how much I love and live soccer, but my point is to remind you that we all have that one thing that just makes us happy. It takes us into a different world where we are truly ourselves, and nothing can hinder that. For my dad and me, it’s a field (or a gym, in this case) with a ball. For others, it’s a warm spot on the beach, or under the shade of an oak tree in the park. For my mom, it’s standing in the kitchen window, making meatloaf and watching the horses graze.

A lot of times we forget about this magical place. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life and everything that has to get done. My challenge this week is for all of us to go back to that place we haven’t been in a while, to find that smile we’ve lost over time, and to rediscover the loves in our lives.

My alarm is set for 5:30 tomorrow morning. I will wake up, lie in bed for five minutes, complain to myself for ten, and be in my “happy place” in twenty. It’s the best therapy there is.

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