Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Walk to Remeber

It is hard to believe that we began walking at 7:00 a.m., but despite the darkness and the wind chill, we began our journey. I remember looking back waving to my mom and Rob and thinking, "See you never!" As we piled through the starting line, there were hundreds of volunteers and family members cheering us on and praising us for all that we had done. This made me smile. Although the first mile was a slow one, the next five were over in a blink - probably due to that fact that my competitive side kicked in and I was focused on making my way to the front. It was my weaving in and out of the crowd and jumping in front of traffic that led me to meet my walking friends, Wendy and JoAnn. 

Pictured above is JoAnn, myself, and Wendy.

These women were also focused on finishing within seven hours and must have felt me on their heels when they struck up a conversation with me. I must say, I could not have chosen two better walking partners if I had to. They spoke to me as an equal, yet looked after me like a mother. Both of these lovely ladies were walking in honor of Wendy's mother, an 8 year survivor of breast cancer.

These two woman were amazing. They were always looking out for me and doing what they could to keep my spirits high. We talked about almost everything you could imagine, yet it felt natural. It was the same closeness I felt to the women on Friday night in the hotel. Each and every person that volunteered, crewed, or walked that weekend will forever share a special bond with me. We are like one big family, protecting each other and providing unconditional love and support. Each time we passed a walker struggling to take another step, we would slow down and give them a hug and remind them that they are amazing, regardless of how far they walk.

Myself, Wendy, and JoAnn attempting to cover the pain with a smile.

While I was probably one of the youngest walkers participating, even I was unable to complete the 39.3 miles. After mile 19, I began to feel pain in almost every muscle. However, I had so much determination that I redirected that burning sensation in my calves into speed. We had averaged 18-minute miles, but the last seven were around 15-minute miles. For all of you that think walking 26.2 miles is easy, you are SO wrong. Imagine walking, non-stop, up hills, and across major highways, for EIGHT HOURS. Exactly my point. Once we had hit mile 22, we agreed that we would not stop again until we crossed the finish. No pee breaks. No water refills. We really were in it to end it!

These last four miles were hell. I was dehydrated, exhausted, and had the worst muscle cramps imaginable. While in my 'eyes-on-the-prize' zone as I approached the pink oasis, I saw the one thing I needed to make the pain disappear - Melissa. There she was. It took me a second to process it all, but there she was. The woman who motivated me to begin this journey eight months ago. She was as beautiful as always, smiling from ear to ear, and before I knew it her arms were around me. Her embrace cast all the negativity away in an instant. In that moment, I thought, we did it.

A special thanks goes to Tharin, for documenting this moment perfectly.

Before I knew it, Rob, Melissa, her son Tharin, my mother, and I were walking to the finish together. Despite the fact that within thirty minutes my legs cramped up into the charlie-horse-from-hell, and the fact that I was physically unable to participate in the last 13.1 miles on Sunday, I knew that I had reached my goal. I did it. I changed a life - mine.

The picture above is my favorite of all. Right before we crossed the finish line a crew member placed this ribbon around my neck to remind us that every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Well you know what breast cancer, screw you; because we spent the next three minutes kicking your a$$ all the way to the finish!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Real Wake Up Call

I did it! I completed, well kind of, the Avon walk for breast cancer! This past weekend was amazing and I met some truly wonderful people. While I was incredibly nervous to take on such a challenge alone, I am so proud of myself for staying strong and not backing out. 

By the time we had arrived in Charlotte, NC on Friday afternoon, the hotel had already been taken over by the color pink. Men, women, and even children had gathered to raise awareness. While I knew no one there besides my mother and boyfriend, I felt as if I belonged. When we went down to Event-Eve in the hotel lobby, there were smiles and laughter for miles. It was like one giant sorority - yet we were all strangers. It wasn't even fifteen minutes before a woman came up to me to ask me if this was my first walk. She shared with me that it was her first time and that she was also walking alone. This was a big relief knowing that I was not the only one alone. After purchasing some uber cute breast cancer apparel, we made our way over to check out the other goodies.

For those of you wondering who the cow is, I do not know his name. All I can tell you is that he is a true inspiration. He has be a part of 40 walks in the past ten years. He was also at EVERY rest stop along our 39.3 mile journey to cheer us on with high-fives and hugs. 

Friday evening ended with an early bed time and 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning came wayyy to fast. Despite the incredibly early wake up call, the adrenaline coursing through my veins helped me to get moving. By 5:15 a.m. we had made our way to the starting line for breakfast and some much needed coffee. This is when my nerves kicked in, full throttle. 

It was cold and windy and I was honestly scared. I saw several teams gathering for pictures and they seemed truly excited for the journey that lied ahead. I will admit, I seriously contemplated turning around and walking back to the car. However, my amazing boyfriend (boob guy pictured above), got me off of the bleachers and over to the crowd of women to take pictures and to raise my spirits. While it took some time, my mood eventually turned around and I remembered that the whole point of this was to push myself beyond my limits. 

This is only a small picture of what is actually a massive blow up. If you look closely you can see my comments - "I walk for everyone" & "savin' tatas for Melissa White". 

Once the opening ceremony began at 6:30 a.m., my fear was replaced with a passionate desire to make a difference. While the hundreds of us stretched as a group, Rob pointed out a sign on the back of a woman that was standing in front of me. It was a sign dedicating her efforts to a woman who had lost her fight to breast cancer exactly one week earlier, 10/13/12. This is when I felt the sudden urge to cry. As is this was not enough, the ceremony then began with a few stories of those participating. While already feeling emotional, a young woman stood up and spoke. She was 28 years old and was walking for her older sister of two years. This immediately struck a cord with me; my only sibling is my older sister of 18 months who is my best friend. She continued on to tell us that right after her sister's 30th birthday, while pregnant with her second child, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even now as I am writing this, it is hard for me to hold back the tears. I am proud to say that this young woman and her sister, Hilary, were BOTH walking the Avon walk together to celebrate her being one year cancer free. 

After a few more heart-wrenching yet inspirational stories, an Avon spokeswoman decided to brighten our spirits before they sent us on our way. After much anticipation, she announced that we, as a whole, had raised $1.75 million dollars! I am so proud to say that my efforts helped to contribute to such an accomplishment. Now just so you all are aware, this money is just from the Charlotte Avon walk, not from any of the other NINE walks that took place this past year. As I looked around I saw both smiles and tears of joy - it was at this moment that I realized how much of an impact my efforts were about to make. 

And then we were off. All 900 of us. We began the journey of a lifetime. Despite the wind in my face and the countless miles ahead of me, it was no longer about my pain - it was about coming together to end the fight against breast cancer.

I have so many stories to share about my journey in Charlotte. However, if I do not cut myself off, I may end up writing a novel. I will post again tomorrow so stay tuned! I want to also thank everyone for their contributions and support. And to my mom and Rob for not only coming with me to Charlotte, but for also waking up at 4:30 a.m. with me to brace the cold.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Final Countdown

Well, it is finally here - the week of the walk. Over six months ago, I committed to walk 39.3 miles in honor of Melissa Coldiron White. Back in March, my main focus was reaching the minimum fundraising amount of $1,800. However, after I secured that goal, my focus then turned to spreading awareness about breast cancer. I spent several weeks posting about cancer and the steps we need to take in order to lower our risk. While I greatly enjoy writing this blog and sharing my knowledge to spread awareness, I have taken the past week off in order to really prepare myself for this upcoming weekend.

Spending hours each day walking leaves one with a lot of time to reflect and meditate. My goal each day that I walk is to stay calm and to not focus on the milage ahead. It is incredibly difficult to occupy my mind for hours at a time and that is why I recruited my boyfriend, Rob, to be my training partner. We have walked countless miles each day, from sun up to sun down. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that walking with a partner is much easier. Having someone to talk with truly helps to pass the time, while preventing my mind from focusing on the pain in my toes or the wind at my face.

No matter how many miles I walk each day, I know the journey that lies ahead is going to be a true challenge. However, all I have to do is survive walking 39.3 miles over two days; this pales in comparison to surviving cancer. Some people are truly unaware of how much of a battle it is to take on the fight against cancer. Breast cancer alone can be incredibly traumatic for females due to it's attack on their womanhood.  Depending on the specific stage one's cancer has progressed to, woman could potentially lose both their breast and their hair - this is not something that we are willing to give up without a fight.

At any stage of breast cancer, one is faced with life changing decisions everyday. Not only does one have to determine wether or not they are going to remove the cancerous part of their breast tissue or all of the goodies, but they are then faced with chemotherapy and radiation. Both chemo and radiation are truly as bad as the rumors. Imagine a chemical coursing through your veins that is strong enough to kill cancerous cells... sound fun? Not at all. It takes an incredibly tough person to undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation. It is not some two week process; it can go on for months at a time. That means being immunocompromised for months, having little to no appetite for months, losing an excessive amount of weight and hair, for months. Now, immunocompromised may be an unfamiliar term for some people but, to explain it best, it means one must stay away from large crowds, be especially cautious around small children, and may even have to be wary of receiving fresh flowers due to any bacteria that may linger on the petals. For these patients, even the slightest cold could lead to a potentially fatal illness.

Now take a moment to process all of that while remembering that the majority of women with breast cancer are in their forties. Imagine losing your breast, losing your hair, and not being able to attend your child's first kindergarten play.

So, the next time you come across someone who has survived or is currently fighting breast cancer, keep in mind the battle they have or are still fighting. Let them know that they have a strength in them more powerful than you could imagine and remind them that you care. As for those of us fortunate enough to be free of any cancerous cells, be grateful and do not take anything for granted. Take a moment to think if that cigarette is worth taking on the fight against cancer...

Although I have taken the past week off, this will be my only post this week. After my clinical tomorrow the journey to Charlotte, NC will begin! I will return next week to share the incredible stories of my walk. I thank everyone who has supported me in my fundraising and if anyone is still interested, it is not too late - donate HERE.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hard Work Pays Off

I cannot believe how fast this semester is going by. It feels like just yesterday that I was learning about assessing vitals signs and how to make a bed with hospital corners. I remember all to well how nervous I was on my first clinical day in the hospital. I used to be so worried that I would be disturbing my patients by doing all of the things my instructor was asking me to do. Looking back though, I fully understand all that she had taught me and the importance of being a persistent nurse.

When we started out in the hospital system, we were simply there to learn about interacting with the patients, how to properly take vital signs, and how to chart our assessments; and that all seemed like an impossible work load. I honestly used to come home from the hospital and have mild panic attacks. I could not imagine how I was going to learn enough about being a nurse before graduation. Despite my uncontrollable anxiety, I survived my junior year of nursing school; which seems like the equivalent of finishing the Tour de France. As a senior now, half way through my second to last semester (I can't believe I just said that) my confidence and my skills have made me less anxious and more excited for the future of my nursing career.

I no longer see my patients as scary monsters that are just waiting for me to crack under pressure and I no longer worry about waking up my patients in order to check their blood sugar. I have finally realized that the majority of patients will value me and my care more if I am constantly checking on them and monitoring their bodies throughly for any acute changes. It is my job to recognize the early signs of complications in order to maintain the patient's safety and health. In order to provide patients with the care necessary to promote their health, it is critical that I assess them from head to toe as often as possible.

When I had decided to write this blog, I not only wanted to spread awareness about breast cancer, but I also wanted to shed some light onto the life of a nursing major. So many people are afraid of nursing school because of the insane amount of work load; and others are just disgusted by blood and other bodily fluids. However, nursing is one of the most rewarding careers out there. For those who have ever considered becoming a nurse, I highly recommend it. Do not hold back because you do not think you will be able to handle it, trust me, you can. I have some how managed to make it to my senior year while balancing a job and while being enrolled in the honors college. While these last three years have been incredibly challenging, it was worth all of the sleepless nights and panic attacks.

Nursing school requires an incredible amount of determination and hard work, as does walking 39.3 miles. While I am incredibly nervous to walk such a long distance, I am also excited. I had a friend tell me the other day that I should be proud of myself for raising so much money and for doing such an awesome thing. However, until she had said that, I never took the time to step back and realize all that I have achieved thus far. I have not yet reached my goal of $5,000 but I am half way there and it feels awesome to say that. Even if I do not reach that goal, I will be proud of myself. This walk is about more than the money; it is about raising awareness. In less than three weeks, my mother, sister, aunt, and several close family friends will gather in Charlotte, NC to support me as I walk. Melissa and her oldest daughter will also be there and I know this weekend will be something that we will all remember for the rest of our lives.

As the walk gets closer and closer, I get even more nervous. However, I know that if I can make it through nursing school for three years, than I can do this!

Please help me get even closer to my goal of $5,000 by donating here. I am half way there but every dollar makes a difference and can save a life. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Just a Little Something

Since I have spent the last week either in the library or at work, I have not had the energy to write a full post. So instead, I found a few interesting facts and statistics that I believe are worth sharing...

And congratulations to Melissa on completing another breast cancer awareness 5k! She is an inspiration to all women for not only surviving breast cancer, but for also not letting it bring her down. Way to go!

Stay tuned for more posts this week. Nursing school has once again gotten the best of me, but as of tomorrow the work load returns to a manageable level.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

An Apple a Day

We have all been told countless times, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." But do any of us truly understand how valuable this advice is? The past few weeks, I have eaten out many more times than I have cooked, and made excuse after excuse to avoid the gym. With all of the colds and illnesses going around combined with my sub-par immune system, I finally got myself to the grocery store. While it is incredibly tempting to buy chocolate ice cream, halloween candy, and frozen pizza, I opted for the healthy options, like apples, grapes, and lean turkey. I will be the first person to admit that I can take eating unhealthy to another level; but I have been raised to understand that eating poorly now, will most certainly catch up with me.

So, having just gotten back from the library, I was in need of a late night snack. Instead of filling my body with greasy potato chips or a sugary snack, I chose an apple and some grapes. It is quite amazing how different a healthy snack leaves you feeling as opposed to a fattening one. It is as if my body is thanking me for the nutrients. Normally, the chocolate chips cookies I would chow down on would leave me feeling like a lazy lump with an upset stomach. However, tonight I do not need to chase my snack with Tums. Tonight, I will sleep feeling good about my decision.

I am not writing this to inform everyone of my late night eating habits, instead I am hoping to shed light on some of the most basic knowledge we have. EAT HEALTHY. How many news articles and documentaries have to be made before we listen? Well, if the effects of obesity are not enough to motivate you to change, maybe these facts will...

While the media loves to tell us that our cell phones, hair dyes, and microwaves are going to kill us, they are much less threatening than our lifestyle habits. Moderate consumption of alcohol is common among Americans, yet it has been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. Smoking, of course, will also increase one's chance of being diagnosed. Weight is also linked to our risk for breast cancer. We have all heard these facts over and over again, but let me put this a little differently.

Breast cancer is primarily driven by estrogen. Our weight and being obese leads to an increased amount of fat. Fat cells make estrogen. Get it?

In fact, being heavy can increase our chances by as much as 40%.

Now, do not take this the wrong way. Estrogen is a natural part of all of us. However, it can also fuel the growth of breast cancer. So we should be aware of the power of estrogen and it's effects on our bodies. Do not give estrogen the power to take over. Stay in charge of your health and of your body. Eat your fruits and veggies because they too are a key in minimizing our risk for breast cancer. So, next time someone tells you that an apple a day will keep the doctors away, listen; because of the estimated 230,000 cases of breast cancer to be diagnosed this year, less than 10% will be due to inherited genes.

I have a long way to go before I am truly 'healthy'. I could cut out my terrible sweet tooth and walk to class instead of driving. However, I make an effort everyday to achieve my goals. I find it easiest to take it day by day instead of focusing on making some drastic change over night. No one is perfect but I cannot emphasize enough, you are the best advocate for yourself. Do not be the one to destroy your body. Love your body and in return it will love you. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Shopping for a Cause

October is officially here and I could not be more excited. It is that time of the year when the seasons change and the world is overcome with pink. Breast cancer awareness has taken this country by storm. Celebrities, clothing companies, restaurants, the NFL, and even the White House have gone pink.

I hope that through out this month I can help to educate everyone about breast cancer, in all of its forms. Wether it is about prevent, diagnoses, or treatment, there is so much information right at our finger tips. However, most of us find articles and educational sites related to medical care down right boring. So, my goal is to bring breast cancer to another level. I hope to provide you with the knowledge you need without putting you to sleep. 

However, since I have spent the majority of my day studying text books and taking practice exams, I believe a little retail therapy is necessary. I have found several items worthy of purchasing... if only my bank account could afford them all! 

Under Armour's Power in Pink collection will donate 10% of the proceeds directly to breast cancer centers and charities.

Asics special edition collection will directly benefit Christina Applegate's Right Action for Women. I am most certainly eyeing up those pink shoes!

That Starbuck's gold card no longer holds any value... I'll take one of these please. I found this along with several other cute items through Oprah's website.

And just to remind all the men out there that BOTH genders can support the cause, the NFL will also be promoting breast cancer awareness in every game this month and also through it's special edition apparel and other items. 

There are countless organizations and companies currently raising awareness about breast cancer through selling us all kinds of products. But let us not forget the true purpose of this month - to raise awareness and to raise money in hopes of becoming one step closer to a cure.

For those not interested in shopping but that still wish to donate, please visit my Avon page.