In the Blink of an Eye

1933766_509877474608_3846_nIt was a normal Friday night, except for the fact that I don’t typically go out on Friday nights- I take that time to recover, recoup, regroup, watch 20/20, and get a good nights rest without having to wake up at the crack of dawn the following morning.

…Except this last Friday night- was atypical. I stopped by a friends pre-holiday party she was having at her boutique.  While sipping, shaking hands, and mingling, my phone rang. The screen displayed “Mom” I quickly answered, knowing I had dinner plans, and although I couldn’t quite hear her, I said “Mom, Mom, did you mean to call me, hello?” It was in that moment I realized my Mom was gasping for air, searching for words, and was in complete, and utter shock… “It’s cancer” she said, “He has cancer.” In that moment my world stopped. I couldn’t process or particularly fathom what my Mom was actually saying–or not saying, but I knew I had to go home. Before hanging up the phone I responded with; “I’m on my way.”

I arrived at my parents doorstep searching for the right words, having so many unanswered questions, and still feeling like this couldn’t possibly be happening. My Mom was on the couch, sobbing. You could see it in her glossed over eyes that “this can’t be happening” was going through her head, time and time again. She would go from trying to explain the situation to me, to talking about the event that I just came from. Her mind almost immediately took her into a tail spin and she thought the worse, envisioned it, and believed it to be true.

Once she was able to form a complete sentence she began to tell me the instances in which they occurred. I knew that my Stepfather was having complications with his spine, yet thought it may have been a slipped disc, or a severely pinched nerve. After a dozen diagnostic tests, the results were conclusive; multiple myeloma. A rare cancer that effects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States. It’s a cancer that attacks the plasma cells which ultimately weakens, and or break down bones in the body.

I’m a very matter of fact person. If there’s a problem, I like to be able to come up with a solution, if I can’t come up with a solution I’m typically able to figure out a resolution. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. There were no words that would make the situation better. There was nothing that could turn the truth into a fallacy, and there was no way to rewind time to just a week prior when we were all at my best friends birthday party, as though everything was fine, and there was a reason to celebrate.

Seeing my Mom in such pain, and not being able to console her was what hurt the most. Seeing as she had just found out she didn’t know much other than what the Doctors translated to her, and what google said. Eventually my Stepfather came down and explained everything in greater detail. Although he was able to hold it together (most likely to be strong for my Mother) you could see that he too was in shock, and was unable to process where his life was headed. He so profoundly said “I’ve lived a good life, I was never rich, but I’ve traveled- I even made it to Peru…” He wasn’t told what stage his cancer was in, or what his overall treatment plan would be…but, he was told that his time was limited. I won’t get in to specific amounts of time because I feel that’s personal, often misinterpreted, and can often times be wrong.

Cancer sucks, it f*cking sucks. It takes the lives of loved ones, ruins that lives of those they leave behind, make you question life, a higher power, and why, and there are a hundred more reasons as to why nobody deserves to go through this God awful disease.

As a family we’re no strangers to cancer. My Mom and Stepdad’s Fathers’ have passed away from cancer, my Grandfather, my Dad, Uncle, and Brother have all had cancer, and my Mom recently lost her best friend to a long and difficult battle against it. Dealing with it so frequently doesn’t make it any easier, in fact I think it makes it more difficult because you can’t believe that yet again this is happening.

Although cancer sucks, cancer also puts things into perspective in the blink of an eye. It can change your entire outlook in just a moment in time. That night, it brought my immediate family, (and closest friends) together. We prayed, we embraced, and we spoke about the future. Although it may be bleak at times, there is still a future. There is still something to look forward to. Whether we like it or not, we all have an expiration date, yet most of us have no idea when it is. The thing with cancer, is that sometimes we do. We know that we don’t have forever and a day left of this earth, so we have to make up for the time that we’re consequently going to lose. I’d be lying if I said the road ahead would be an easy one, in fact, I know it’s going to be a very long and difficult one- but it’s one that we have to face head on, and one that we will face as a family. The road will be filled with up’s and downs, family vacations, celebrations, tears of both joy and sadness, but most importantly one of togetherness.

In this generation, and time of life we struggle with living in the present, we struggle with realizing that life truly is a gift. We focus on everything else surrounding us thats negative, and brings us little to no joy. When given such horrific news we tend to focus on the end and thats undoubtedly acceptable at times, but it’s throughout those times that we need to celebrate our existence, embrace our loved ones, invest in experiences that will be cherished forever, and leave everything else that no longer feeds our souls behind.

Don’t worry Mom, and K– we’ve got this, we’re all in this one together.

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I Took Control

As a little girl, I gained weight by overeating processed foods, fried foods and snacks combined with the lack of physical activity. My immediate family wasn’t physically active and they didn’t know much about fitness or nutrition. My school lunch was mostly composed of chips, soda and candy from the corner store. I battled with obesity and asthma throughout my childhood and much of my young adult life due to my family’s unhealthy eating and smoking habits.

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Most of my family members battle with some sort of illness related to their diet (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer). I had to deal with the loss of my mother and grandfather, who both suffered from those diseases. I did not want to end up like that. I needed to be around like-minded individuals and motivate myself or else I was going to easily give into temptations and eat whatever I wanted, to mask the pain. Overtime, I learned that I could take charge of my health by changing my diet, choosing not to smoke, and making fitness a part of my daily life.

I have lost weight, gained it back and lost it again. I had a food addiction and ate whenever food was around. It wasn’t until a close friend of mine (Takia McClendon) shared her concern about my health and started teaching me how to eat better. That’s what motivated me. This was such a pivotal moment in my life because I was getting close to weighing over 300 pounds and thought nothing of it, but decided to take action.

I realized that no one was going to take control of my life, other than myself. I knew the path I needed to follow, so I decided to be the one to lead the way.

In 2013 Takia and I co-created City Fit Girls. A Community of women that inspire, uplift, encourage and motivate one another to be the healthiest version of themselves at home, school, in the workplace and in social settings.

I left my full-time position in HR to focus more on building City Fit Girls as a go to network for all things fitness, wellness and girl power.

City Fit Girls has become my platform; it has been able to motivate me and in turn become my fitness family. All of our clients and partners have made City Fit Girls what it is today and through this network, I have been doing exceptionally well on my fitness journey!

 

Submitted By: Kiera Smalls

 

 

I’m Winning

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I’m smart as shit!  I am an intelligence analyst for the United States Air Force. I have a degree in Microbiology, and I am working on a Master’s in Chemistry, and I hope to one day attend nursing school.  I’ve lived in three different countries, and I’ve traveled the world.

But while I’m smart, I have a mostly hate relationship with my mirror.  I never look slender enough, I never feel strong enough, and there are days I just put my hair in a messy bun for work so I don’t have to look ay myself.

I played sports all throughout high school, and never failed a PT test for the military, I might not have been happy with my body but it had never failed me.

Yet in 2010 that all changed. At the ripe age of 23 I was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  I had to undergo both radiation and chemo.  I lost chunks of my hair, and my body grew weaker with every lifesaving procedure.  And to top it all off, I didn’t get skinny! The doctors put me on steroids and I actually gained more weight.  I was diagnosed and treated in Germany; I had no friends and no family, often driving myself to and from these appointments.

As if cancer wasn’t enough to go through, my husband had met and fell in love with another woman, and in the same week I was diagnosed with cancer he served me with divorce papers. It was a really rough couple of months to say the least.

By 2011 I had reached remission, and all but forgotten the douche bag ex, and been given 6 months to get back in shape for a PT test. When the time came to test, I failed miserably.  I couldn’t run, I couldn’t pass the waist measurement, and push-ups were a joke.

I knew I needed help, and it was going to have to be professional.  My first day with my new trainer was terrible; I couldn’t even run for five minutes on the treadmill.  I had trouble with the modified exercises she gave me, and by the end of our first session I was in tears, throwing up, and ready to throw in the towel.

She was busy, she had clients coming and going all day long, but she took the time to take me for tea.  And I agreed to try again. I’d already paid for the sessions, and figured I might as well try again.   I eventually got stronger, a little at a time, and passed that PT test.

I became good friends with my trainer, and I honestly don’t know if it was her or fitness that saved my life.  Having beat cancer all alone, and having failed my PT I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.  There were days it was a struggle to get out of bed, and I was in a very dark place.  Sometimes the only thing that kept me from doing something very stupid was those PT sessions with Jayel.  I knew she’d be working just as hard as me to get my body into shape and where I wanted and needed it to be.  As my body got healthier, my mind did too.  I left behind the self-pity and did what I do best, got down to business.

The mirror is still a personal struggle for me, but with fitness I’m winning more battles than I used to.

Submitted By: Stephanie Comer

I survived

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Growing up I always associated running with that dreaded one mile run as part of the standardized fitness tests. Quite frankly I hated it and would do everything I could to get out of it. With that said, I’ve never considered myself a runner – until I moved to Philadelphia in 2009. Sandy Torchia, a partner at KPMG, suggested that I join her for a 6AM run before work. I was hesitant at first but I did it and I found it to be an extremely rewarding experience. Not only was I networking and building a strong relationship with her and other coworkers but I was in phenomenal shape. I went from hating running to loving running. Completing 5Ks to Half Marathons. During the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November 2011 I was going for a personal record and felt amazing until around mile ten when I was suddenly experiencing excruciating hip pain. I somehow finished the race but could barely walk. After several weeks and numerous visits to the doctor’s office, a sports medicine doctor finally diagnosed my injury as a stress fracture in my femoral neck which required emergency surgery to insert three pins in my hip.
After about four months of physical therapy I was finally back to running and starting to feel good until May 17, 2012 when I suffered yet another personal and health related blow. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 29. On top of that devastating news, approximately 12 hours early, my boyfriend who I thought was the “one” broke up with me. My entire world fell apart in a blink of an eye. I felt alone, angry, depressed, and confused. There were days where I couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t eat. I was suddenly faced with decisions that I never in a million years thought that I would need to make such as mastectomy vs. lumpectomy and fertility preservation. I relied on my family and friends to help me get through each day as well as alternative treatments that promote healing such as acupuncture, meditation, and reiki. I also found that running helped me to deal with my illness both mentally and physically. After about a dozen surgeries, 8 rounds of chemotherapy, and 30 days of radiation I am ecstatic to report that I am cancer free.

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Throughout this life altering experience I realized how fragile life is. I was determined to live each day with no regrets. I went back to work after about an 8 month leave of absence and continued traveling around the country and the world – eating and drinking whatever I pleased. After about six months, I recognized that not feeling good about myself from continuing to struggle with the mental and physical effects of cancer but also from not regularly running. I decided I needed to not only live each day to the fullest but also get back in shape and take the right steps to regaining my self-confidence. I knew based on my hip injury and the physical impact that the surgeries had on my range of motion and overall strength that running alone wasn’t the answer so I enrolled the help of Jayel Lewis at Philly Phitness.
While I may not be back at my optimal level of fitness, I am working towards my goal through a combination of running, personal training, and yoga. I know that with each workout, I am taking a step towards healing the mental, physical, and emotional wounds and limitations. Throughout the past two years there were times when I wanted to give up, but I just kept reminding myself that I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will be healthy.

Submitted By: Ashley Smyk

Strength

There are many words I can use to describe me: Intense, passionate, happy, no tolerance philosophy, loving, mostly vegan, witty, gluten-free, raw food enthusiast, blogger, yogi, marathoner, fiercely loyal, endurance and adrenaline junky, digital strategist, and volunteer who allows her free-spirit to come out on occasion. Obviously, my mentality is “go big or go home”.

This mentality has carried through multiple circumstances in life.  A few hardships I have overcome are: I got divorced, my mother passed away from cancer, an estranged relationship with my siblings, I called off an engagement, and I had emergency surgery for a perforated ulcer with no known cause.

Throughout each of these situations, I pushed forward never looking back with regret at how I handled each situation and really adopted the mentality of; “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” ~Dalai Lama

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I checked my to do lists and got through each day by putting one foot in front of the other literally and figuratively.  Looking ahead, always looking ahead.  I tasked myself with new challenges to be a better me for me.  I became a vegan, cut out gluten, worked with a trainer, ran, practiced yoga, started consulting so I had flexibility in my work schedule, volunteered, meditated, and surrounded myself with those that enhance my life.  And I still do all of these things today.  Adopting things into my life to fulfill overall wellness that allows me to be the best possible person I can be and lessens my risk for disease.

…and now I’m a yogi who also runs 10 – 13 miles 5 or more days a week and meets with a trainer 2 days a week.  Kind of how a lot of things happen.  All of a sudden you find yourself on a new journey not truly understanding how you got there.  Writing this now, I had to think, analyze and link together past actions with emotions as opposed to making the decision and moving forward as I have become accustomed to.  I was so adapted to just pushing forward that I wasn’t allowing myself to just be in the present. Yoga enhanced my physical capabilities of course, but it also helped me mentally learn how to stay in the moment instead of always looking forward.  Through my hardships (as we all have), I have learned to be almost too independent. In my mind, you can only rely on yourself to make these positive decisions in life.  Find the positive in a negative situation, when there is no positive, know you will come out stronger and have no regrets, pick the healthy route instead of the unhealthy (I promise you will feel better), surround yourself with positive people and cherish them, and embrace the journey even when it’s tough. Most importantly, know yourself and reevaluate yourself often as you grow, change, and evolve. The choice is yours.  I throw myself into my health and positive relationships, because we have one body, one life, one chance and I will soak it up.

“Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.” – Henry David Thoreau

 

Submitted By: Britney Harmon