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AUTHENTICALLY BOLD: REBECCA

BETTER, NOT BITTER

Author

Rebecca Soulliere

The Edge

I have been slightly on edge recently.  I was not sure what the cause of my edginess was and my family accused me of being “hangry” and needing to eat more. No.  It was not quite that feeling.  Sure, I have a lot going on but nothing that is out of the ordinary.  I racked my brain for what could possibly be making me uneasy.

My thoughts have been in overdrive again.  Was this my typical drive to push myself to achieve my current list of goals?  Was this all that has been going on at work?  Was this my need to get the kids situated and back into the fall and school swing of things?  No.  The uncertainty was different than my usual behavior patterns.

Then it hit me.  Smack dab in the face.

August 31st.

August 31st, you say?  What is the big deal about that date?  Labor Day weekend.  Yes, usually fun and full of the last of summer events.  There it sits, like a lead weight or a heavy matzo ball in the bottom of my stomach.  The discomfort and uneasiness has me seeking for relief.  Where is the bottle of Tums to coat the emotional distress?

August 31st, 2007 was my own personal “D-Day” and for some reason, the last two D-Days of mine have been a negative memory that has caused the aforementioned uncertainty.  Ten years ago, was the day I heard the horrific words, “You have cancer.”  Ten years ago, I locked myself in my master bath with my husband as the recognizable hospital number rang on my cell phone and I knew….I just knew.  The memories of August 31st are so profound, the details so concise and clear, it is as if the day happened yesterday.  A portion of my brain is set on a loop, replaying the events of that day in a way that the Harry Potter marathon plays on the FreeForm channel on TV.

The funny thing is I never thought about my diagnosis date much until the last couple of years.  I have yet to pinpoint what triggered this sudden change or recollection of this date.  My focus has always been on my “chemoversary” or the date that my medical oncologist used as my “survivorship” date, the date in which I finished the last of my chemotherapy treatments.  Despite still needing radiation and more surgery after my chemo was finished, the date that is etched firmly in my brain – much like the birthdates of each of my children, is my chemoversary.  It is a much more positive date for me to cling to, so why the sudden clawback to my diagnosis date.  I still do not know.

It was a Friday night at 7:00 pm approximately when my phone rang.  I can still hear Dr. Quinlan’s soft voice on the other end of the phone.  My immediate reaction was why was he calling me at 7:00 pm on a Friday on Labor Day weekend; but I knew.  I just knew.

The day before I had a core needle biopsy, the same of which I also remember vividly and with angst.  Have you ever seen how they harpoon Moby Dick?  Yes.  The core needle biopsy was like being harpooned over and over again with a very large gauge weird looking instrument.  This procedure is ultrasound guided, so you are forced to look at the screen while the radiologist shoots this weapon into your breast to pull out pieces of your tissue that resemble small worms.  Yes, like small earth worms that wiggle across the pavement after a spring storm.

I recall being equal parts intrigued and disgusted as this procedure went on.  Science, it is fascinating.  But wait, this man is pulling out long, wormy sections of my left boob.  I felt sick.  I felt hot.  I felt cold.  The radiologist asked me questions about my pregnancy.  Right.  Yes.  I was 14 weeks pregnant with my third child.  Weird that they have the ultrasound on my boob and not on my belly so I could see the little fluttering baby.  What alternate universe was I in?

The radiologist was talking incessantly and I interrupted him.  Cut the medical talk for a minute, please and in layman’s terms, tell me what you see.  Please.  The doctor squirmed uncomfortably so for what seemed an unusually long time but was likely seconds.  He simply and calmly told us that he had put a rush on my results and good luck with everything.  I remember saying to him that means it does not look good.  I know you see this stuff all the time, so you know it is not good news.  He simply responded to call your oncology office tomorrow after 2:00 pm if you have not heard before then and again he said good luck with everything before leaving the room.

The walk to the car was a daze.  Foggy.  As if my vision had been clouded over and my mind was honing in on one thought.  I looked at my husband as he started the car and I told him, “I have cancer.”  His response through clenched teeth was, “It sounds that way, doesn’t it?”  The drive home is clear until a certain point and the thought that canvased my brain was “what on EARTH did you do to end up with cancer while pregnant?  Did you murder a Pope in a former life?” (Note:  I am not even Catholic).

Friday, August 31st was D-Day.  How does one sit around and wait for that call?  Little chores and tasks did not prove to be a distraction.  Tick, tock, tick, tock the clock inside my head went.  After what seemed to be the longest day of my life, I called oncology at 2:10 pm to see what was going on since the radiologist told me to call after 2:00 pm.  The nurse told me my results were not yet it.  Exasperated, I begged her.  How could my results not be in yet?  I…..*need* to know.  She reassured me in her most calming voice that the doctor would call me as soon as he had them.  I reminded her it was a holiday weekend and I could *not* wait until Tuesday to know.  I reminded her I was pregnant.  She promised me the doctor would call me.  Tick, tock, tick, tock……..

My children, then nine and six years old were a better distraction.  They both knew something was up as their routine had been altered in a couple of weeks prior as their Momma needed some additional doctors’ appointments.  My oldest honed in on me with this uncanny ability that she has and she repeatedly asked me if I were okay.  I assured her I was okay and that the doctors just needed to check some things out for Mommy.  Her eyes gave her away, it was as if she also had this sense of what lay ahead.

The phone rang and my heart skipped a beat.  I ran to the bathroom and had my husband join me behind the locked door.  We mentioned to the kids we were expecting an important phone call and needed privacy.  Of course, that warning did not stop them from knocking and asking what we were doing mid-conversation.  Remember how I “knew”?  I knew, but there was a part of me that still remained hopeful, maybe even optimistic that the doctor would say there was no concern and the lump in my breast was still just a benign fibroid that would be dealt with after the baby was born.

“Your results are positive.”

The blood drained from my face and plummeted through my body into my feet.  I sat on the toilet.  Holy shit.  My worst nightmare is true.  I have cancer.  Like cancer-cancer.  Somehow, through my marbled thoughts and burning ears, I asked the Chief of Surgical Oncology what stage cancer and what type.  I half-listened as he mentioned it looking like Stage Two because my tumor was well over four centimeters in size.  I vaguely remember him saying we need more testing to obtain the sub-type of breast cancer that it was.  Dr. Q told me he had taken the liberty to schedule me for an all-day meeting with the entire team the following Wednesday. I should be prepared to spend the day at the hospital to make the plan of action.

Quietly, I asked him what my prognosis looked like.  Expertly, he explained it depended upon the sub-type but overall the prognosis was good.  He further stated that I would likely have to start treatment sooner versus later and that we would work the pregnancy in.

“Oh, crap.  I have a baby in me.  This changes EVERYTHING.”  These were my thoughts as I realized again that I had cancer.  I did not know if I were going to live or die.  I had young kids.  How could I have cancer?  What the fuck?  My life had had more than its fair share of challenges and hurdles to date, but now I have to add a potential death sentence?

We hung up the phone after thanking Dr. Q for calling us so late on the holiday weekend.  My husband was scared shitless.  He just stood there with his eyes brimming with tears.  His personality makes him go to worst case scenario immediately before working his way backward.  He already had me dead.

I begged him to put on his game face as the kids were getting squirrely and begging us to come out of the locked bathroom.  We hugged.  I told him I would be okay and put my own game face on.  The entire night I pondered how I would have to tell everyone that I now have cancer.  I was immediately uncomfortable because I am not one for sympathy or help.  I am tough.  I am resilient.  I will do this.

The next morning, we canceled all of our weekend plans.  How does one normally process the news that they have cancer?  Oh, right, there’s absolutely nothing normal about having cancer.  We started slowly sharing the news with family members and close friends.  The agony and despair on their faces were nearly as grim as the receipt of the news over and over and over again. I became a walking, living, pity party able to provoke tears or sadness by simply entering the room.

Simply days later, I had meeting after meeting after meeting with a tribe of medical professionals:  surgical oncologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, nurse after nurse, mental health social worker, and more.  I had made my decision that I was going to wait until my baby was born to do anything.  My surgical oncologist begged me to reconsider.  He thoroughly explained over and over again how it would not hurt the baby.  He displayed twenty-five-year-old studies showing the effects on pregnancy were minimal, albeit real.   It was not until I met with the high-risk OB/GYN doctor when I was still being adamant about waiting six more months until my baby was born that I got my wake-up call.  The obstetrician grabbed me by the arms, she looked me in the eyes and stated firmly, “Chemo will NOT hurt your baby!  You have TWO other children that also need their mother.”  Internally, I collapsed.  If this doctor was willing to assure me that chemo would NOT hurt my baby……well, I had to place my trust in her at this moment because she was right.  I had two older children who did, in fact, need their momma.  Ugh, how did I get to this point?  Where did I go wrong in my life?

Within a week of my all day pow wow with every doctor under the sun, I was scheduled for my sentinel node surgery the following week.  I had been sub-typed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC).  It is more commonly found in women of African-American descent, so why did I have it?  Who knows.  We needed to start treatment immediately.

My very first chemotherapy treatment consisted of two drugs:   Adriamycin (the red devil) and Cytoxan the week after.  The regiment of drugs at the time for TNBC was to include a third chemotherapy called Taxol, but they refused to give it to me while I was pregnant.  I had also begged for a mastectomy, get these boobs off of me but my surgeon felt it was too risky while pregnant, plus because I was so young he was of the breast conservation decision.  I disagreed but he showed statistics that mastectomy would not improve my survival rate.  My baby was more important than a risky infection.  By September 14th, just barely two weeks after my diagnosis, I had already had surgery and started my first of many chemotherapy treatments.

prego scarf nov 07
“Camp Mojito” night to support spreading the word as I geared up for my lumpectomy at 7 months pregnant. First two chemos just completed.

Recalling this time in my life is crystal clear.  One would think that ten years later, the memories would start to diminish.  Isn’t there a cliché about time healing wounds?  I am healed in many ways, but August 31st and the days shortly thereafter are meshed into my being and forever a part of who I am now.  I am blessed to still be here with these vivid recollections because so many of the wonderful women I met along the cancerland highway are not.  My hope is that someone will read this that may be newly diagnosed and have a little hope that ten years down the line, they will recant their story for someone else.  Maybe someone else further out like me will feel validated and resonate with their own memories, “Yes!  I can recall my diagnosis this clearly too!”

Ten years.  Here’s some perspective:  My older two were nine and six on August 31, 2007.  My older two are now nineteen and sixteen on August 31, 2017.  From fourth grade to a sophomore in college for my oldest!  From kindergarten to junior year in high school for my middle.  From in utero to fourth grade for my miracle chemo baby.

Ten years.  Ten glorious years of living life after cancer.  The gift of life a second time over is glorious.  I am looking forward to my next ten years as there’s a whole lot more living to be had.

Never Say Never

Another weekend has come and gone, much like the fleeing of those two days of rest often seems to disappear like the fog in the early morning.  Typically, my weekends are filled with the activities of your run-of-the-mill parents:  sports activities of the children, errands necessary to maintain a household, and some type of relaxation activities if there are not upteen birthday parties or family parties to tend to.

This past weekend, I chose to spend the bulk of my “down” time with eleven other adults, five of which were crammed in the same tight quarters of a twelve-passenger Ford Transit van for over 36 hours.  Trust me when I say I’m not quite sure how TWELVE passengers would fit in this vehicle as it was just barely doable with five other adults and our belongings for the 36 hours.

What were we doing that required the rental of a large van and our belongings for 36 hours?  Oh, right.  I signed up for another Ragnar Relay race.  What….on….earth…is…wrong…with…me?

A couple of years ago, I was conned persuaded to join a 12-person relay team to run a 200 mile road race in 24 hours.  I enjoyed the experience tremendously; it was unlike any other race experience and I knew I would do another one someday.  Twelve people sign up to run three times in 24 hours; six people in van 1 and six people in van two covering 36 legs of the relay route by foot passing a wrist bracelet “baton” to one another at pre-arranged transition areas continuously until the entire team crosses the finish line.

Flash forward to May 2016, I completed the Ragnar Relay Cape Cod with some Crossfit and running friends of mine.  As hard as it is to run multiple miles in 24 hours, the adventure afforded by the Ragnar event leaves you feeling an enormous sense of accomplishment, but also, the memories of doing something outside of your comfort zone and an escape from your everyday burdens life.

At the time, I recall saying repeatedly that I would *never* do Ragnar-Reach the Beach New Hampshire.  No way.  No how.  That race is full of MOUNTAINS.   You know…never ending inclines, hills, and did I say MOUNTAINS – as in the WHITE FREAKING MOUNTAINS?   Yes.  No way am I ever doing that!  NEVER.

Oy vey.

In the immediate after-glow of Ragnar Cape Cod, in my delirious and over-tired endorphin laced stupor…..I somehow agreed (it still makes me wince) to do Ragnar-Reach The Beach New Hampshire.  Yes.  Remember I said never?

I was duped. 

I was conned. 

Two of my Ragnar Cape Cod teammates/friends must have batted their eyelashes at me and wooed me while I was inebriated on serotonin.  What kind of friends ARE those; I ask?

Fast forward again to this past weekend, somehow, suddenly a mere four months had vaporized into the time machine and here I was again, sitting in a large white passenger van en route to the deep, dark woods of New Hampshire’s lake region on a Thursday after work.

Why a Thursday you ask?  Because the team I was on was assigned a race start time of 6:45 am on Friday.  We decided it would not be in our best interest to leave at 2 am on Friday to make a three-plus hour trek up to the starting line located at Bretton Woods when we would then have to be awake for however many hours it took us to complete 200 miles to Hampton Beach at the finish.  Fortunately, one teammate in van one and one teammate in van two had homes in the lakes region so we could stay and sleep for a little while before continuing onward North and to higher altitude (aka MOUNTAINS).

Instead of that dreaded 2 am wake-up call from home, we woke at 4:40 am to get the final hour drive up to our race starting point for the safety meeting and check-in of our team.  My nerves began to intensify and my belly reminded me multiple times over that my brain was indeed on crack, or something far crazier than serotonin.  My Gremlin came out and started with her negative banter:

“You are too old for this!” 

“You are not in shape for this!” 

“What WERE you thinking?”

“You are way too fat for this!” 

“You are so slow, you will hold the entire team back!”

“What on EARTH (or any other planet) were you thinking?”

“You are going to fail.” 

“You won’t be able to complete your legs, someone else will have to pick up YOUR slack.” 

On and on and on this terrible self-torture went on.  ENOUGH!  I would shout to myself once in a while.  That sneaky slimeball Gremlin would weasel back in:

“You think Crossfit training is enough for you to run all these miles? HA!”

“Maybe you should have focused on more training runs and not lifting weights!”

“Seriously?  400 meter runs at Crossfit, a few longer runs around town and you think you can do this?”

It was too little, too late; I was committed to a team and fidgeting nervously, anxiously, at the base of Bretton Woods waiting for Runner #1 to go off and wonder if I could start my race with a decent enough run to shake off the demoralizing Gremlin.

I started to look around me and I shivered; but it was only 39 degrees at the base of this particular mountain.  Thank goodness it’s not hot and humid, I gently reminded myself.  Look at that sky!  Look….at….that…sky!  The crisp sky was such a brilliant shade of blue contrasted by the dark green of the mountains around me.  There were hardly any clouds except for a wisp here or there.  As I took in a deep, cleansing and calming breath, I knew it would be okay.

Once the baton was handed to me, I reminded myself to start off comfortably as I tend to want to bolt out – partially in anxiety and anticipation, but partially because the old running star still thinks it resides in my brain and has yet to meet this 42 year old body.

Brain, meet body (again, for the thousandth time).

Body, meet brain (again, also for the thousandth time).

Not only am I 42 years of age now, but my body still suffers from the collateral damage of breast cancer treatment and the never-ending gifts that delivers.  Three different types of chemotherapy have left life-long residual effects such as neuropathy and a post-cancer diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.  Have you ever tried to run several miles on numb feet and with massive joint pain?  For some reason, I do – and for fun!

My first leg of the Ragnar was simply a four and a half mile excursion from Bretton Woods to the Grand Washington Hotel and back to the base of Bretton Woods.  As I took off from the base of the ski lift and the grassy knoll it calls home, I headed into a trail that consisted of a sandy, uneven and rocky bed.  Deep cleansing breaths ensued as I kept my feet steady on the shifting and moving foundation underfoot and I chuckled as I read the “Beware of bears” sign I wobbled past.  Because it was cold, my muscles started to threaten to cramp (damn, why didn’t I warm up more?) and I shook off the pending fear that tried to take over.  Before I knew it, I was out on pavement on Route 302 distracted by the glorious peak of Mount Washington before me.   I continued on and met the Nordic cross country ski trails to run on; again, somewhat of a nightmare for feet impacted by the nerve damage of Taxol.  I found myself chuckling again as I remember what a disaster my one and only cross-country skiing excursion went two years ago at my work retreat on these very same trails.  Why would someone try cross-country skiing when they have severe neuropathy?  Oh, why the heck not?

Distracted by my own laughter, I suddenly found myself at the base of the rear of the Grand Washington Hotel.  It was majestic in its white and red glory against that radiant blue sky. img_5711

The trail evened out and was sure-footed as I wrapped around to the other side of the hotel and around the Nordic Ski Center itself where the front of the Grand Washington caught my breath again.

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Knowing my teammates were waiting, I scaled the uphill driveway to find myself following several other runners scattered along the exit and back out onto Route 302.  As I blasted into the transition area, my team was eagerly and happily waiting for me and I was so pleased to learn I had finished that leg of my race a little faster than I had anticipated.  *THIS* is why I do this, I said to myself.  I *CAN* do this.

My teammates in Van 1 plowed along through majestic mountains and scenery until about 11:30 am where we handed off to the rest of our teammates in Van 2 for them to start their adventures.  We had a few hours to eat, rest and regroup before starting up again for leg two later that afternoon.

By 5 pm or so, the temperature had soared to around 73 degrees and sweat was coming off everybody coming into the transition area for runner #12 to pass off again to runner #1.  My Gremlin started to undermine me and cause me uncertainty for my next leg; the same of which was 6.8 miles.  While runner #1 was out completing his mileage, I worried about what I had gotten into once again.  The pesky questions of self-doubt started to rise and my stomach flip-flopped making me question my lunch choices.  The angel on one shoulder was reminding me of my efforts ten hours earlier and giving me words of confidence.  The devil on the other shoulder was chastising me, berating me, and trying to convince me that I would be unable to do it for a myriad of reasons.

A little after 6 pm approximately, I trotted out of a sandy pit and onto a winding, country road to start my longest leg of the race.  The sun was starting to set with brilliant pinks, reds, and oranges disbursing through the green leaves of the trees.  The farm animals lent their smells to the warm mountain air.  I practiced breathing as I found myself withholding from the anxiety that still remained in the early mile and I tried to shake out the stiffness from sitting in the van for so long coupled with the remnants of rheumatoid flare the week before.

The rolling hills started to turn into much larger rolling hills; with me trying to make up time on the downhill with my friend gravity as I slowly and steadily plowed my way up, up, up the seemingly never-ending and growing hills.  Panic set in as I realized I was only about three miles in; I questioned how I would get through more.  Slow and steady.  Slow and steady.  I recited this to the different beats and tunes surging through my earbuds.

The hills got longer, steeper, and much harder.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to call my van and plead mercy.  I give up.

No.

Keep going.  You have more.  Slow and steady.  Slow and steady.

I can’t do this.  I can’t.  My feet hurt.  My joints scream.

You have beaten cancer.  You have more.  Keep going.  Slow and steady.

The conflicting dialog continued on in my brain as my body detested the motions I pushed it through.  Suddenly, I hit town and more vans were approaching.  I must be near the transition area.  I can do this.  As I turned the last incline, I saw the crowd of people waiting for their teammates to approach and I knew my very own team would be there waiting.  I did it.

img_5725

My van-mates were done around 12:15 am before passing the baton off to van two again.  We had the luxury of getting a shower, a meal, and about two and a half hours of sleep at a family member’s house nearby.  Another 4:40 am wake-up call and we were en route to the final and third-leg runs for our van.

The long and short of it is my body was by now, very sore and achy from the 11.3 miles it completed in the hours before.  Getting in and out of the van was now a challenge, my knees and hips telling me they were not a fan of my activity and my muscles stiffening.  I modified by getting out of the van backwards each time.  Thanks to a wildcard leg for runner #1 and runner #2 in these legs, the mileage was to be determined by both of us.  Runner #1 felt good enough and was a trooper enough to accomplish over 6.4 miles, leaving me with the remaining 4.5 miles to track down for the transition to runner #3.  My van-mates reminded me it looked to be mostly downhill, as words of reassurance and confidence.  Early on, I knew my final leg was going to be a challenge simply because we had lack of sleep, we had too many miles thus far, and my stomach would not tolerate enough fuel for these last miles.

As I tried to maneuver the downhill grades with a faster clip, my quads started screaming at me.  I may have told them to “STFU” and used that momentum for the continuing hills I ensued on this last leg.  Are we not getting closer to the freaking ocean?  Why are there still so many hills I pondered?  My piriformis muscle really let me know it was angry; angrier than my nerve-damaged feet and with more intensity that my quads tried to bail out with.  I walked.  “Just to that telephone pole and then you get your ass moving again, Rebecca!” I said.  I would run until near tears.  I walked.  “Just to that telephone pole and then you get your ass moving again, Rebecca!” I said yet again.  Over and over and over until the final hill of the leg was standing before me.  At this point in time, it looked as if it were Mount Everest before me and I nearly burst into a full on girl cry.  One more massive hill.  I had no choice.  Quitting was not an option.  I walked the entire last hill.  I felt shame.  I felt guilt.  It took me a long time.  I apologized to my teammates who were just so glad I was there.  I started to chide myself again for my lack of performance as I nauseously stepped my sweaty mess of a body into the van.

As we drove to the next transition area, I made a decision.  I had completed 15.8 miles over three legs in 24 hours.  Does it *really * matter how fast or slow I went?  Does it *really* matter if my legs were hilly or not?  Does it *really* matter that I walked some of those big hills?  Really?  No.  It does not.

I said I would never do Ragnar-Reach The Beach New Hampshire.  Yet, here I sat……sore, broken, exhausted, but yet, done.  My never had turned into a reality.  My never had delivered forty-eight hours of memories and adventures with good friends and new friends.

My never had once again reaffirmed that despite the negative Gremlin that lives in my head, I have the power to overrule the nasty words she spews.  My never had also reinforced the belief that despite my sadness that I will never have a “normal” like I had before cancer, my current state of “normal” is okay.  My never allows me to be alive and live…truly live by doing things that are not only a test of my physical body, but my mental ability to overcome.

Putting myself aside, I saw friends of mine take on this endeavor and crush every mile  Friends of mine who are not “runners” as they label themselves, are now the owners of bragging rights for completing distances equal tonor greater than a half-marathon!  What a sight to see!  What pleasure I gained from seeing their smiles and sense of accomplishment!

Life is always full of challenges for all of us, that will not change.  Instead of saying never in the future, I will look at challenges with an open-mind and I will know that I am responsible for whether I choose to accomplish or overcome those challenges as I see fit.  Instead of saying I will *never* do an ultra Ragnar (only six runners for 200 miles, instead of twelve); I now firmly, confidently, and emphatically say, “I choose NOT to do an ultra.  I have zero desire to consider that challenge.  I will look elsewhere for a different challenge.”

Anyone in for Ragnar Cape Cod 2017?

 

Free Ticket Giveaway over at Lucky Scarf!

Visit the blog over at Lucky Scarf today and comment at the bottom of the post to win four tickets to the famous King Richards Faire for you & your family/friends!  Drawing is tonight, so don’t delay.

Click below:

Free Tickets to King Richards Faire!

Let’s Talk Boobs, Shall We?

Surprising how quickly time seems to fly these days!  Days turn into weeks; weeks turn into months; and suddenly, months turn into years before we realize the cycle of time.

With a full time job, three kids, a husband, an avid Crossfit addiction, a need to advocate for those with cancer, and more commitments; I find time elapsing faster than ever before.

In the meantime, as I ponder new material to share with the world I realize that some of my content from my former blog, “Confessions of A Curvy Girl” had some posts that were worthy of a re-share.

For now, let’s talk about Boobs:

Confessions of a Curvy Girl: I Am A Boob Girl

The DOER Series – April Edition

With a recent couple of scares at the local high school in the past several months, including a full protocol lock down, in talking with a friend of mine who works at the high school, I realized the depth of my next nominee for The DOER Series here in my Authentically Bold blog.

I do not go to the high school often to dismiss my oldest child, but when I do, I am greeted at the front entry by a gentleman that has a conflicting aura about him: he is both intimidating but yet, warm and funny in the same moment. For those of you that know me, I do not get easily intimidated, but I love people with a great sense of humor and particularly those who make fun of me at my expense.

Meet Michael Hume, our April Edition DOER.

 Mike hume

After the seriously scary lock-down at our high school, I asked my friend more about this man after it dawned on me that *this* man is our first line of defense should anyone target our high school through the front entry- way. Without knowing this man beyond our handful of interactions, I know without a figment of a doubt that he would put his life first before letting any intruder get to the thousands of students that go to the high school. My friend confirmed for me that the “scary funny” man (as I described him) that sits at the front desk would absolutely place himself in any line of “fire” that may threaten to harm any of the building’s occupants.

Who IS Michael Hume?

Beyond the tough shell and super teasing personality is a man whose wife describes him as “a very caring and compassionate person.”  Dayna states, “We were both raised in political families and were taught from an early age to give back to our community whenever the opportunity arises.  We have managed to teach our children those same values and are so impressed with the level of compassion that they have toward others!”

Dayna traces back their desire to help outwardly was their decision to become foster parents.  She credits the foster parenting training as being so intense that it allowed Michael and her to recognize qualities that they did not know they had as a couple.

When their son Bo, began to play Pop Warner Football at the age of 8 years, Michael and Dayna became involved in the Pop Warner program in Leominster.  Not only did Michael, as well as Dayna, become board members, but Michael started a long career of coaching, becoming director and subsequently President of the League itself. Dayna was right behind Michael as the league secretary and team mom for Bo’s teams; and even tried her hand at coaching cheerleading.

Michael started the Mighty Might Bowl in Leominster one year so that the youngest kids who do not get the opportunity to have playoffs, could have a chance to play in a “big” game. The parents were so thankful to Michael for giving their kids that experience.  While Michael was President he managed to change the Leominster Pop Warner colors to match the city colors of blue and white and purchased new uniforms for most of the teams.  Based on Michael’s leadership example, his older son Rich also became involved: he mowed the field and helped install the new electronic score board at the field.  Michael further championed for the continued use of the field when the then current city government tried to eliminate the lease of the field. Michael’s diligence, research and perseverance allowed a long time tradition of Pop Warner football to continue on in its Leominster location.

Michael and his family belong to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Leominster; and of the members of the family have all been baptized there. Michael and Dayna were married at the church on West Street.  Church is important to Michael and his family and he has demonstrated that by volunteering at the church’s Thrift Shop every Saturday for five years.

At St. Mark’s, Michael did the one thing that he loves the most; cooking while Dayna worked in the clothing part of the Thrift Shop.  Michael was given several opportunities through his church roots to help others in the community.  For example, there is one couple who came in to the church often, but who did not hail from the Leominster area.  The couple wanted to go to Milford to put flowers on a family grave around Memorial Day; however, they had no method of transportation to get there.  Michael offered to drive them and took the couple on two occasions.

Michael donated all of the food for the thrift shop kitchen and loves making homemade chicken soup.  Another lady who came in regularly became a friend of ours too and loved Michael’s homemade chicken soup.  When Michael and Dayna stopped working at the thrift shop, they continued to bring Michael’s delicious chicken soup to the woman and her husband.

The newest ministry at St Mark’s has been the Community Café held at the Boys and Girls Club on Tuesday evenings.  Michael not only continues to cook, but he has become the meal planner.  The families fed by the Community Café are those who are living in local motels, displaced from their prior residences several miles away due to a discontinuance of a statewide subsidy program. The Community Cafe gives these displaced families not only a night out of the motel rooms where they are cramped with several family members; but a chance to fellowship with each other and actually enjoy a sit down meal as a family.

Michael’s career working for 29 years as a prison guard allowed him to acquired wonderful skills in dealing with people with a deserved level of compassion and understanding.  Perhaps, this experience explains the “tough outer shell” I referenced above. However, it is that soft interior filled with compassion and humor that allows Michael to succeed in his role at Leominster High school.

The students at the high school respond to Michael’s style very well, knowing he is there to not only enforce the rules and boundaries, but that ultimately, this man has their back. Many of the students continue to keep in touch, even after graduation; often times stopping by to visit Michael and bringing him his beloved Diet Coke.

One of Michael’s students from a few years ago lost her dad. The impact that Michael had on this particular student is she repeatedly tells Michael that she wants him to walk her down the aisle when she gets married.

Michael hopes to use his current experience within the high school, coupled with his ties throughout the community from his Pop Warner service, and his church volunteerism to embark on a bid for a School Committee seat this coming year. His passion for the kids and his love of the community deeply drives his ambition to help make some much needed and important changes in the Leominster Schools.

I always say it takes a village to raise children and Michael has certainly paved his way in being a solid, although humble, leader in giving back to his community through sports, church and in the school itself. Mike may not stand and scream his accolades from the rooftops, but his actions prove his character is undeniably changing our local community for the better without any benefit other than filling his big heart. Our big, little city needs more of that…..and he’s is definitely an Authentically Bold DOER.

 2014-01-13 21.36.13

If you have a DOER you would like to nominate for a future edition of The DOER Series, please contact me at rsoulliere74@comcast.net.

$100 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway! Now Until March 26th

amazon1
Welcome to this fun Amazon $100 Gift Card giveaway. Mommy’s Favorite Things and Mama’s Baby Cupcakes have brought together a group of great blogs (Authentically Bold: Rebecca included) to co-host this prize for one lucky winner.
With Amazon, the possibilities of purchases are endless, but with Spring around the corner, we thought now would be a great time to help one lucky winner with this giveaway to possibly expand their out door fun.
All you need to do is enter the Giveaway Tools on the link below, come back for daily entries, and up your chances to win big!
This giveaway is brought to you by our co-hosts you’ll see below. Mommy’s Favorite Things is responsible for sending Gift Code. Open to US and Canadian Residents, 18+years of age. Void where prohibited.
Enter to win here:

Out of the Mouth of Babes – A Surefire Way to Have Body Image Issues

An oldie but a goodie, from May 2012 and “Confessions of a Curvy Girl”Out of the Mouth of Babes, A Curvy Girl Perspective.

How do you deal with the blunt honesty your young child(ren) dole out to you?  With an outwardly smile and a inwardly “STFU or I will kill you” thought process.

My youngest has added these gems over the past couple of years since I posted “Out of the Mouth of Babes”:

“Momma, when will my forehead have those lines like yours?”  Baby, don’t wish for these wrinkles…..ever.

“Momma, I LOOOVVVEEEEE your figgy pudding belly!” (As she squishes her face into it and makes kiss-y sounds).  Love, I am so thrilled you love me unconditionally and recognize my squishy flub as the real estate that housed you, your brother, and your sister for a collective 26 months of pregnancy.  <*Note to self:  do MORE ab exercises!>

“Momma, I love playing your butt bongos!” (Yes, she stands behind me and swats a rhythmic beat out on my rear end.)

Arg.  Kids always tell it to you like it is and you love them unconditionally so.  <After you get over the stabbing pain right through your heart and your incessant mirror peering with 563 different angles to see if you can make said figgy pudding less, er, um, figgy?

What have YOUR kids said to you?

The DOER Series – February Edition

Who gets depressed when they read the daily news lately? I know I find it easier to steer away from the likes of CNN because the headlines are often graphic and depict verbiage that describes death or rather horrible manners in which humans treat their fellow humans. I am not apathetic, but I need a bit more balance in my life when it comes to the stories I read.

Swing over to social media, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram and there are more positive inspired posts <okay, okay and thousands of selfies galore> for one to be lifted up by. My newsfeed is filled with several people getting healthy and encouraging others to do so (myself included), stories shared of laughing babies, bleating goats (how can one NOT laugh at a bleating goat?), and more silliness. My newsfeed is also streaming with those who continually applaud themselves for all the *good* they are doing in the world. Please do not get me wrong, I absolutely adore and admire people who are making pervasive change in our little universe. However, there is a big difference between just *doing* and *talking* about all that you are doing in exchange for the public accolades or trying to make others feel badly because they may not be doing what *you* are doing for the greater good.

However, in my futile attempt to steer clear of being negative myself – I thought, “What about all of those that are doing good deeds, paying it forward and changing our world *WITHOUT* the self-promotion on social media?” As I thought about this premise, I realized that even in my own little Central Massachusetts community, there are SO many people who are indeed undertaking amazing deeds of kindness every….single….day…..and yet, they are not asking for anything in return. These people I have named The Doers.

dreamers and doers

Circling back to my desire to read more positive news that will soften the disheartening stories of the barbaric acts of ISIS, or those dying in awful and tragic accidents; I had an epiphany! Why not use my blog as a method of sharing positive stories about The Doers? The people who are choosing authentic acts of kindness deserve to be applauded in a bold way……so here in my Authentically Bold: Rebecca way, I will pay it forward by highlighting a special Doer each month (with their permission, of course).

My first nomination: Amy Conley McManus

amy mcmanus

I have known Amy for well over ten years now, possibly a few years more. My friend recommended Amy to me as a hairdresser when my other hairdresser decided to leave the field. My relationship with Amy was pretty much love at first sight as she knew what I wanted and/or needed nearly every appointment at her salon, Trinity Salon in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

Amy is nearly the same age as I am and went to another local school, so often, my appointments would share stories from days gone by or include updates on who we may have run into or had conversation with.
Amy shaved my head for me when I started chemotherapy for the second time and was about to lose my hair again. Despite the sadness in her face to have to perform a hair service I did not ask for, she stoically and gently moved the razor around my large skull. Amy gave me suggestions and products to care for my scalp while my insides were poisoned. She laughed with me as I went in a few months post chemo and had this wiry, unruly “pubic” hair as I called it.

As the years have surpassed, I have noticed that Amy’s giving spirit seems to be increasing and rubbing off on those who surround her. Without any hoopla, Amy hosts fundraisers and collects donations or physical items for soldiers who are stationed overseas or currently, an animal shelter that has significant needs.

Most specifically, last year in 2014, Amy hosted the fundraiser of all fundraisers to help some crazy lady who had the idea to run the Boston Marathon as a means of not only celebrating life after cancer and a 40th milestone birthday, but as a way of showing the world just how Boston Strong we all are after the horrific marathon bombings just the year before <hint: that would be me>. Knowing that in exchange for my race bib to the marathon I had a very lofty fundraising goal, Amy approached me and offered to do a full day event with all proceeds going to help my Team Eye & Ear efforts. Amy rallied the entire salon of stylists and nail technicians, all of whom follow in Amy’s giving spirt and they donated their time, their products, their services and so much more to raise over $2,000 for Team Eye & Ear.

Despite a hip labral tear at mile seven, I knew I had to push through and finish the race even if it took me many more hours. I personally knew so many cancer survivors that were counting on me to finish, but when the pain became blinding – taking a minute to recall how much effort Amy and her staff had put into propelling me TO the marathon helped me plow forward and eventually cross that blessed blue and yellow finish line on Boylston Street in Boston.

Amy will be the first to tell you she does not do “much” and what action she takes is minimal compared to others. By highlighting her as The Doer of the month, I hope she realizes that there is no such thing as doing too little or minimal good deeds. The impact of her actions flows beyond her desire to do a little, by rippling outward to those she works with and further to those who are the recipients of her acts of kindess. Ask the soldier(s) who were on the receiving end of her care package and one may assume the response is a heart full of gratitude. If the animals could talk, I am certain the items being collected will ensure an unlimited amount of tail-wagging, tongue licking, barks and meows.

More examples of the DOING that Amy and her salon gals have DONE:

  • Raffle for the Healing Garden in Harvard, MA
  • Dancing with the Realtors for Habitat for Humanity in 2007 and 2008
  • Donation to a client’s 3 Day Walk for Breast Cancer
  • Cut-a-thon for the Ayer Relay for Life
  • Care packages for overseas soldiers serving our country
  • Countless gift certificates and baskets for several other fundraisers.

Personally, my heart is full and knowing the acts that Amy undertakes for no reason other than it feels good to pay it forward, makes me authentically proud to call her a friend and a fellow Doer.

start doing

If you have a DOER you would like to nominate for a future edition of The DOER Series, please contact me at rsoulliere74@comcast.net.

Forgiveness, A Year Later

With death, one often shares thoughts and memories of a decedent to hang onto their love.  Remembrances of past experiences comfort you with a soft embrace and perhaps, warm your heart or bring a ticklish smile to your face.  For me, little signs and occurrences have been sparking my more positive memories as of late. Negative weight my mind harbors has been slowing wedged out of the way like a plow, leaving behind a glistening, fresh road of positive recollections to relish instead.

My dad passed away in March 2011 and my mother died suddenly in April 2013.  Having had severe medical ailments for most of their adult lives, their deaths were not surprising but they were unexpected.  At first, my feelings were of relief for each of them.  Relief, you ask?  Yes, relief.

My father was wasting away in a nursing home, sharing a room with two other nursing home residents.  In my opinion, one of the most unfortunate ways to spend your last moments here on Earth.  The smell of the nursing home: a bizarre mixture of sanitation, fecal matter, urine, and cafeteria food is strong enough to make my hairs bristle.  The visions of countless old people sitting, biding their time until the Angel of Death swoops in to take their last breath is disheartening as you wonder what their life stories are that led them to this “waiting room”.  The relentless sounds of incessant beeps from a multitude of alarms emanates from room after room after room waiting for the over-stressed staff to come and hit the reset button for the umpteenth time.

My mother, on the contrary, was still living independently, albeit in a senior housing facility.  Despite a life filled with codependency and unhealthy relationships, the final years my mother lived were empowering to her on many different levels.  Instead of wasting away in a trapped room, my mother had a social circle in her apartment building and despite using a scooter to maneuver around, she had suddenly become the most active she may possibly have ever been.  Her apartment was a time capsule when my husband and I walked in with my half-sister (*that* is another blog in and of itself) to take care of my mother’s affairs post-death.  The radio was still playing in the living room, set to the oldies station my mother was so fond of and used to sing terribly off-key to.  The dining room light remained on, with light filtering and highlighting the notepad with her blood sugar results she posted the morning of her death.  Her nearly empty tea cup sat cold next to the pen she used to keep track of those aforementioned diabetic readings.  My mother had plans to return home.  She never did.

Despite a very dysfunctional life, the life I grew up with is *MY* life.  For all the horrible memories I retain, from the searing childhood abuse from my mother and the pressure to be that perfect child from my father; my experiences molded me into the person I became.  See Not All Mothers Are Created Alike and I Miss My Dad.

Last year I posted about Forgiveness. Would I be able to forgive my parents for the behavior and treatment they doled out from the moment they moved in with my young family in late 2003, through my cancer battle in 2007-2008 while pregnant with my third child, to the ensuing years up until their respective deaths?  What has happened in a year’s time, you ask?

Alas, I have not completely forgiven or have I been able to resolve all of my conflicting inner-most feelings about my parents.  While my anger and more so, my disappointment, has lessened with the passage of another 365 days; my ability to completely absolve the words and actions of my parents has not been entirely fruitful.  However, I choose to focus not on the negative feelings that reside within me and instead I find myself carrying out acts that implement the more positive acts of each of my parents.  Instead of letting the harboring weight hold me down, little and effortless acts appear in my weekly routines that allows me to pass along the warm memories of my parents to my young children.

My kitchen has lately embraced the smells of recipes that my mom used to make for me; dishes so warm and *huggy* that my children are now enveloped in Grandma’s love.  Recently, I was compelled to make a spinach lasagna so I drove to the grocery store for the very ingredients that will meshed together a fond memory of my childhood into a full bellies and hearts of my own family.  We talked about Grandma that night.

My boss’s mother-in-law saved a special piece of her homemade South African fruitcake post-holiday after hearing my fond recollections of my dad having a love for fruitcake; an odd trait that was passed along to me.  As I savored the small piece of the holiday delight, each morsel helped navigate my brain waves into the cistern of retrospect and suddenly, it was as if my dad was there enjoying a piece with me.  My kids laughed at me rolling my eyes into my head in enjoyment of this little treat, but they understood that the indulgence of these ingredients meant far more than my theatrics and taste buds would allow.  We talked about Grandpa that day.

My ability to forgive may remain challenged, at least for now.  As I embark on my quest to live more authentically in 2015, there is comfort in knowing that with the passage of time, more and more memory *hugs* (as I like to call them) will surface.  Each reminiscence will envelope me in the love I know my parents had for me; even when they were most challenged to show it to me.  Each recollection will allow me to expand upon my own parenting with my children; offering each of my kids a tidbit of the very threads of my being that is now being woven into their beings.  Perhaps, these offerings will equip my young family in their ability to forgive in their years ahead.

forgiveness

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