Sunday, June 2, 2013

Conquering Stage Fright - Survivor Speech - Relay for Life 2013

Dear Friends and Family, 
Thank you again for all your support, encouragement and donations toward the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. I am happy to report that despite insane nerves and anxiety I delivered my speech and was even told by a few people that I did a good job. The ACS gal told me not to be surprised when they call me to speak again... who knows, maybe a side career of speaking is in my future. (Imagine icon of terrified face here. I was a ball of nerves before I started speaking... but it all worked out just fine.)

My baby brother (the big guy next to me), his wife
and their 3 children. My parents, and of course my
little ballerina and superhero.
In the audience (of about 600 people) there were several special people that I would like to thank for coming out to support me. My parents came out (even though my mom is/was going through chemotherapy), my brother and his family, my friend Samantha who also scooped free ice cream for the survivors donated by Leatherby's Family Creamery, my friends Rita, Erica, Jeff and Lolly (who is also going through treatment right now for appendix cancer) and a friend that I made while going to radiation Jane. And of course, my hubby and kids were there to cheer on mommy!

Before I share my speech, I also want to thank those who made donations to ACS. The luminary bags that decorated the track were beautiful. I tried to get pictures of all of them, however I am pretty sure that most of my group of donated bags were actually hanging up creating the word "Love", so I wasn't able to get close enough to photograph them. 

Thank you to the following friends  for your generous donations. I was able to raise $340 with the help of the following supporters:
This bag was dedicated to my mom.
They had misspelled her name so I
had Nathan redo it for her.
Makes it even more special.
Al & Carroll Amator
Annette Hicks
Sally Finkbeiner
Samantha Cox
Chanel Schrier
Bob & Pat Montgomery
Jay & Danielle Joost & Family 
Emily Brown
Joni and Glen Kelley
Jennifer Buwala
Casey & Eileen Randall
Rod & Diane Fendall
Tim & Elizabeth Driessen

Okay, here's my speech: 

2013 Relay for Life Survivor Speech
I hate my hair.
It used to be long and straight and shiny. It used to be dark. I have no idea what color my hair is now & why is the bottom part curly and the top flat?
But you now what?
I looked good bald.
My husband and kids loved me even though I was bald. And although the cancer treatment took my hair, it did not take my HOPE.

In 2011 the luminary bags at the end of this track read: HOPE
Last year they read: Faith
And tonight, they read: Love

You see, when it comes down to it, there are three things in this life that endure, faith, hope and love. Tonight we celebrate love.

As a community we stand together tonight in a bond of love. We will walk this track united in love. And we will continue the fight against this nasty disease called cancer in the name of love.

Love for someone dear to your heart that has left this earth too soon.

Love for someone who is an inspiration of hope and courage. Someone currently battling against cancer and determined to win the fight.

Or love for a survivor who has taken a lickin… but has decided to keep on tickin.

Love unites us. And love is the reason we will fight and walk and fundraise and hope and pray and keep fighting until there is a cure for cancer.

Did you know that thanks to the research by money raised by the American Cancer Society  2 out of 3 people are surviving cancer for at least five years. But we can't be silent, or stop fighting or stop fundraising until that number is 3 out of 3.

And this is where your love comes in. Tonight we, as a community, demonstrate our love, by walking this track in honor of all who touched by this disease. For cancer does not sleep, so tonight neither will we.

Please let me to share a little bit of my cancer story:
My story begins on a regular morning in the shower while, like a good American woman, I was shaving my armpits. I felt something on my right side next to my breast. Thinking it was a bug bite I went to itch it and realized that what I was feeling was deep under my skin. I gave myself a self-exam and knew instantly that this lump was new and needed to be checked out.

When the nurse touched my lump she jumped back and sent me to get a mammogram and ultrasound. Under and hour later I sat alone in her office as she told me that she didn’t like what the image was showing and I should have a biopsy. She gave up her lunch break and did the core biopsy right then. One week later she called me to tell me that the biopsy was negative but she didn’t believe it She thought the results were a false negative and she was ordering another biopsy. I went in the next week… the doctor took 30 samples from the lump and the next day I got a call that changed my life.

The day I found out I had cancer will never be erased from my memory. I was
at my aunt's house feeding my 15-month-old daughter in the high chair when the phone rang. I stepped over my 4-year-old son to go into the bedroom to answer the phone. As the doctor told me about the results of my biopsy, that I had Triple Negative Breast Cancer, I calmly took notes and thanked him kindly for the horrible news. I remember telling my aunt I had an aggressive form of cancer, asked her to watch the kids and then drove to my husbands work.
When he started crying, I started crying. Those were my first of many  tears.

I was 34 years old.
And went from feeling like I had all the time in the world, to feeling like a clock had started ticking with a countdown.

Something I have learned though, is that if you let it, fear will rule your life. I’m not going to act like it wasn’t easy, but I eventually decided that love is greater than fear and I would choose to love life, and my family, and myself and that I wouldn’t let cancer steal my spirit.
Love is the fuel for life.
Love makes our life worth livng… and that statement is true even without cancer.

In the following 10 months, I went through 16 chemotherapy treatments and then 30 radiation sessions. I’m not going to lie. It was awful. The first 10 weeks I felt like I had the worst flu ever.
Turning on the lights hurt my eyes.
People talking hurt my head.
My bones hurt from the inside out.
And on many days taking a shower was the main event of the day.

But amongst the pain of chemotherapy there was also abundant love.

My husband Eric loved me so well. He became caretaker, nurse, prayer warrior and stepped in to the missing role of mommy for our babies. He stepped outside of himself to love me beyond words.

My 4 year old son Nathan had the job of bringing me water. At least 4 times a day he would trek up the stairs with a fresh bottle of water. It was his job to keep me healthy with a fresh drink and he took that job with incredible seriousness. That little boy loved me more than I could have thought possible.

And my baby girl Leah, at only 1 year old, loved me with cuddles and kisses and hugs. Her simple presence oozed with life and love.

Friends and family loved me, actually they loved my family, with meals, watching the kids, fundraising, cleaning my home… and so many other unique and special ways.

And while I know that not all of you will understand this, the love of my God, gave me comfort and peace in a way I had never experienced.  You see, when all you have to do with your day is lay in bed, all alone, silent and in pain… praying turns into deep, real, honest, open conversation. And folks, the depth of those talks with God became my strength and courage. And my ability to love back.

Today, nearly a year after treatment has finished; when people ask me how I feel I always answer “I’m still standing.” You see, my view of life and love has been forever changed and I am now in a place where everyday today matters more than any other day. Because today I have been given the gift of breath. And today is a day I can love on my children. Every day is a gift and to treat it than less than a gift would be to waste one of the lessons that cancer has taught me.

Last year, at the 2012 Relay for Life, although I was still going through radiation I came out and walked. For me it was 24 hours of declaring victory on the other side of cancer. I wore my survivor shirt with pride.

This year, I fundraised in the name of the many women that I have encountered and become friends with that have has been diagnosed with cancer in this past year. My prayer list now includes my dear friend Lolly, Julie, Kristin and sadly, my mom, Kris. In March my mom was diagnosed with the same nasty Triple Negative Breast Cancer that I had. She is half way through her treatment. She is determined to win. And she is an example of joy in all circumstances and taking this awful hiccup in life with grace.

With cancer in my past, yet still totally in my present, I have decided that  I really wanted to give back to the American Cancer Society. You see, the day before I went into surgery for my lumpectomy, I made the call to the American Cancer Society. A kind woman answered the phone and took my information. We talked for close to an hour, and I’m sure she would have talked to me for 4 hours if I needed it. She shared about the financial assistance they had for transportation costs to patients that needed help in driving to treatment. They also had volunteers available to drive me to treatments if I needed it. They had classes & support groups, online and at various hospitals. She even mentioned a class called 'Look Good, Feel Better' where I could learn to do make-up around my eyes and how to draw on eyebrows after my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out. She was honest and clear. I felt supported and understood.

After my 2nd chemotherapy treatment and my hair had fallen out I went to the 'Look Good, Feel Better' class. At the class, I sat with 6 other women who were going through treatment too. One of the older ladies scolded me for not wearing my facemask. My husband had been telling me I needed to wear it, but when this fellow cancer patient spoke, I somehow understood the need to take responsibility for my immune system and myself. We put on make-up, they showed us different wigs, and head wraps offered by ACS and the volunteers handed out crocheted beanies. We were given a bag of make-up donated by a variety of cosmetic companies throughout the country. Everyone teaching the class had experienced hair loss and had gone through chemo treatment. In that room,
I was normal.

Those services were the direct result of the love of our community at events like Relay for Life. Yes, the efforts of this event actually reach real cancer patients right here in Elk Grove. So on behalf of patients and survivors… I thank you for loving us.

As we walk together tonight and you remember those who are hidden deep in our hearts, or you celebrate a survivor, or you find yourself praying for healing for someone currently at battle, remember that love is what unites us tonight.

(Halie enter the stage.)
Tonight we have a very special young lady with us that I would like to introduce. Her name is Halie McKinney and she is a very mature and wise 10 year old. The kind of special child that has a heart to change the world with her kindness. Halie’s life has been touched by cancer multiple times over the past several years. She had and aunt who past away in 2010 of lung cancer, a cousin at the age of 25 in 2011 from testicular cancer and another aunt in 2012 from breast cancer. Last year at the San Leandro Relay for Life she donated her hair to an organization making wigs for cancer patients. And last February she started saving money for a little boy that she knew who had cancer but he has since past away. She put all of her birthday money, tooth fairy money, recycling money and even had a garage sale last weekend with donated items in order to fill her donation jar. Tonight Halie would like to officially make a donation to the American Cancer Society in honor and memory of those she knew that have been taken too soon.

Halie, how much are you donating?
(Let Halie answer.) ($1,000)

Folks, this young lady, 10 year old Halie McKinney, is a great example of love. She has sacrificed and worked work hard to raise money that will bless the lives of people that she has never nor will ever meet. She is demonstrating that love lives beyond the grave and that not even death can stop love. Love conquers all… love wins.
And love never fails.
Thank you. 

Wow.... if you made it this far your a super duper faithful friend! Thanks for reading.