Just a Thought, Not a Lot

The thing is, no matter how many times I get my hopes up only to have them shattered, no matter how many times I am used or led on or taken advantage of, no matter how many times I give the world to someone else only for them to walk away, no matter how many times I am hurt beyond words.. I still have this stubborn and relentless, almost unbreakable hope that the right thing will happen when it’s meant to happen. That the right person is still out there. That my refusal to give up hope and my positive outlook on this world and the people in it will be rewarded. That I will find someone who cares about me and wants me just as much as I care about them and want them. That love will find a way.

Whether this makes this makes me exceptionally optimistic, foolish, delusional, admirable, hopeful, completely idiotic, or maybe a little bit of all of the above, I do not know.

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A Love of Wealth vs. A Wealth of Love

In one of my classes, we were asked this question, and the following is my response to it:  What does wealth mean to you?  What role will wealth play in your life in the future?  

Before I can adequately answer what wealth means to me, I have to explain how I personally define wealth.  I guess most people would define “wealthy” as not wanting for something, to be surrounded by that which you desire.  For me, being wealthy doesn’t necessarily have to mean financial wealth.  I would be lying if I said I did not desire for a comfortable future, but I can absolutely say without a doubt that I do not want nor need a future filled with lavishness or excess.  As far as monetary wealth goes, my wishes are pretty basic, and I assume most people have the same fundamental wishes that I do: to be able to have a family, to take care of that family, put food on the table, pay the bills, be able to take my kid to the doctor when they are sick without worrying about how I will have to pay for it, to hopefully not live paycheck to paycheck, etc.  I hope to have a future that includes the opportunity for me to get married, be a mom, and maybe even be fortunate enough to get to stay at home with my children for at least part of their childhood, if not all of it.  I want to be secure enough to be able to always put a little aside each month for my children’s college funds.  I want to be able to provide for my family and give my children a good childhood and a good life.

It seems that in todays society, “wealth” means to live in excess.  To have five flat screen televisions and at least two cars and one to two more bedrooms in your house than your family can actually occupy.  It seems that “wealth” is all about showing off, walking around dressed in items so expensive that you seem to scream, “The total value of everything I’m wearing is more than you have in your bank account right now, ha!”

But to me, being wealthy isn’t about loaded bank accounts or six figure salaries or three foreign sports cars or a black credit card or a designer handbag that cost as much as a semester’s tuition at an in-state university.  You could have all those things and still not be fulfilled.  You can have everything money can buy in this world, and still feel empty inside.  They say, “Money doesn’t buy happiness.”  I think that is true, although I do know it does help everyones sanity and well-being to not have to worry about how to make ends meet.  But to me, no amount of money can really make you a person of value, that is something you must do entirely on your own.  How much money you have in the bank does not determine your self-worth.  What restaurant you can afford to eat at does not decide whether or not you are important to this world.

According to the dictionary, “wealthy” is an adjective meaning having a great deal of money, resources, or assets; rich.   While this may be the standard and largely accepted definition of “wealth”, it is not a definition that fits into my life, nor is it one I can accept.  Do I want to be wealthy in the future?  Yes.  But I want to be wealthy in love, compassion, relationships, and knowledge.  For love is the greatest wealth in this universe, a wealth that far surpasses any monetary value; love is one of the few things left in this world that you cannot put a price tag on.  If I am to be wealthy in money, let that only be secondary to being wealthy in love, so that I may use the great monetary excess that I have to help improve the lives of the people who need it most, to help make vast improvements in medicine, and make a difference in the lives of people in third-world countries.

But if I am to be wealthy in anything, let me be wealthy in love.  Because despite the power that money holds in this world and the great deal of people who believe it is the most important thing in existance, love will always be more important and more powerful than money could ever hope to be.  Money is temporary, love is eternal.   And when the day comes that I look back on my life and take my very last breath, I will look back on and enjoy the memories that LOVE made possible.  Money might be able to take you to a certain destination, but it is people that give you the memories, and while a very shallow imitation of love may be bought with money, true love is something that can never be purchased.  If I have loved well, than I will have lived well.

So if I am to be wealthy in anything, let me be wealthy in love.

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I Miss You, I Love You, and I Hate February 25th

Dear Ann,

It is February 24th.  Oh no, it is February 24th.  That means tomorrow is February 25th, the Worst Day.  Can’t we just skip from February 24th to February 26th?  Can we just not have February 25th at all?  Or better yet, can you, by some wonderful-crazy-magic-scientific miracle be returned back to us, healthy and alive?  I swear I wouldn’t ask questions, wouldn’t wonder if I’d officially gone off the deep end-I would just be eternally and overwhelmingly grateful to have you back, to have my best friend alive and healthy.

It’s always the day before the Worst Day that the anxiety comes.  The fear.  The dread.  The absolute sick-to-my-stomach feeling of sheer panic.  I find myself thinking the same things and asking the same questions:

“What do I do?”

“Wait, there has to be some way to fix you, right?”

“No, no, no, no, no.. please no.”

I have all this tense, nervous energy.  This overwhelming need to DO SOMETHING, as if somehow worrying enough about you will change what tomorrow is and what tomorrow means.. as if somehow there’s the tiniest possibility that I will wake up tomorrow and you wont be dead anymore.. as if somehow I can change the unchangeable or will you back to life.  It is like reliving the day before you died, all over again.  It’s like watching myself in slow motion on February 24, 2011, the day before the Worst Day, so full of sadness and despair yet somehow desperately clinging to the tiniest shred of hope that by some miracle, you’d be healed and you would live.  There are so many thoughts and emotions swirling around inside of me that I just kind of become numb to everything except one single thought, clear as day, sharp and painful as broken glass:  You are gone and you are never coming back.

Tomorrow, before work, I’ll do something special for you.  Raise a glass of orange soda (the only drink you liked towards the end, because you could still taste the flavor) to the sky and make a toast.  I’ll promise you, like I always do, to keep working so hard to make a difference in the cancer community.  I’ll cry.  I’ll continue to remember, each and every day, the importance of life, family, friends, and love.  I won’t take anything for granted.  I will do my best to keep on being the girl you always said I was: the girl with the sunny, positive outlook, a young heart, and an old, wise soul.

I miss you.  I love you.  I can’t believe tomorrow will be two years.  I don’t want to believe it.  Thank you for being such an amazing best friend and teaching me so much about life.  I’m so sorry you’re gone.  I’ll never be okay with that.  I wish so badly you were still here with us.. I wish it every second of every damn day.

Love,

Kass

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52 Songs of Pure Awesome Happiness

An Instant-Feel-Good Playlist by Kassie 

ABC-Jackson Five

All Right Now-Free

All Star-Smash Mouth

All The Small Things-Blink 182

Bouncing Off the Ceiling-A* Teens

Bring It All Back-S Club 7

Buddy Holly-Weezer

Can’t Hold Us (feat. Ray Dalton)-Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Cowboy Boots-Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Daydream Believer-The Monkees

Daylight-Matt & Kim

Electric Avenue-Eddy Grant

Every Morning-Sugar Ray

Feel So Close-Calvin Harris

Good Day-Nappy Roots

Ho Hey-The Lumineers

Home-Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

How Bizzare-OMC

I’m a Believer-Smash Mouth

Kiss Me-Sixpence None the Richer

Knock Three Times-Tony Orlando & Dawn

Little Talks-Of Monsters And Men

Fuck You-Cee Lo Green

Love On Top-Beyonce

The Middle-Jimmy Eat World

New Shoes-Paolo Nutini

No Diggity-Blackstreet & Dr. Dre

On Top of the World-Imagine Dragons

One Love/People Get Ready-Bob Marley

Ruby Blue-Roisin Murphy

Same Love (feat. Mary Lambert)-Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Schoolin’ Life-Beyonce

See the World-Gomez

Semi-Charmed Life-Third Eye Blind

She’s So High-Tal Bachman

Sleepyhead-Passion Pit

Stand By Me-Ben E. King

Steal My Sunshine-Len

Summer Girls-LFO

Teenage Dirtbag-Wheatus

That Thing You Do!-Various Artists, Movie Soundtrack

Three Little Birds-Bob Marley

Thrift Shop (feat. Wanz)-Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Till I Get There-Lupe Fiasco

Tongue Tied-Grouplove

Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down)-The Hit Crew

Two Princes-Spin Doctors

Walkin’ on the Sun-Smash Mouth

What I Got-Sublime

When It’s Over-Sugar Ray

Young Folks-Peter Bjorn and John

5 Years Time-Noah & The Whale

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Strength Found in Not Knowing

“Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world.  Mortal or immortal, few really ask.  On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds–justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on.  To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind.  The answers may annihilate the question and the questioner.”

-Anne Rice

Perhaps it is because I have anxiety, but my whole life I’ve always been one to search out the stable, the dependable, things I could count upon, things I knew to be true.  I think it is more than fair to say that for most human beings, especially those with anxiety, there is nothing more horrifying than the unknown, the uncertain, the things we cannot control, the situations with no clear escape route.  We are plagued by the “why’s” and the “what-if’s” of the world.  The more I think about it, anxiety is more or less entirely based on the fear of not knowing, the fear of being out of control, the fear of the irrational, the fear of anything and everything that is not right here in this exact present moment where we can see it and try to understand it.

In just a few short months, I will be twenty-two years old; I have spent way too many years of my life bound by fear, trying to find solace in facts and “understanding” things.  It was not until the past year or two of my life that I got to a place where I really began to change and evolve as a person.  After many years battling anxiety, I finally know how to live with it, rather than letting it imprison my mind and hold me back from doing the things I love most in life.  In the past year and a half, I have become more adventurous, more brave, more bold; I am not as afraid of risks as I once was (and I am actually starting to take them).  Perhaps one of the most important changes I have made is that I am not afraid to question things, I am learning to be unafraid of the things I don’t know.  I have found a certain strength in uncertainty, a newfound bravery that allows me to live comfortably in a place of not knowing.  I am learning that you can draw strength on being able to exist in that space, a space where you don’t know things for certain, a space where certain things may always be a mystery.

One of the biggest areas of uncertainty in my life in the past few years have revolved around what I believe in, my faith, and my spirituality.  I did attend church for a little while with my family when I was fairly young, but that is not something we continued throughout my childhood.  We attended a Presbyterian church.  My sister and I were never baptized.  I feel like we were more spiritual than religious, or maybe we were religious, just not as strictly religious as other families.  I grew up praying at night, just by myself.  I know that both of my parents pray too.  I don’t think this was anything that was ever forced upon us, something we were told we had to do.  I can say that more often than not throughout my life, I have prayed daily.  My own personal faith and beliefs changed a lot as I grew up, through middle school, high school, and then college.  I would go through different periods of time where I would be more “faithful” than others, it just sort of depended on what was going on in my life.  I attended a private Catholic high school, which opened my eyes to an entire other sector of religion.  I think attending that school really shook up my own thoughts and beliefs, especially when I had my beliefs questioned, judged, and sometimes berated by my own educators.

In my second year of college, in the month of August of 2010, my best friend Ann was diagnosed with cancer, and later that month, on August 31, 2010, both my grandma and my little brother were also diagnosed with cancer.  Somehow I went through the motions of the next year or so (during which I lost my best friend Ann), in a sort of protective shock.  Somehow you just get through the most difficult times. You brain protects you from the pain, from the hurt, by numbing you just enough to deal with it all.  The thing is, your brain cannot protect you forever.  Sometimes it is months after a hard time, and sometimes it is even a year or more.  Eventually, the numb starts to wear off, and slowly but surely, you begin to regain feeling and suddenly the floodgates burst open, you are inundated with thoughts and feelings and questions and fears and emotions and you wonder how it was possible that you managed to keep all this at bay for the time you did.

I think my own personal floodgates burst open in the past year and a half of my life. I started to wonder about certain things more than I had ever before.  I questioned things I thought I solidly believed in.  At first it wasn’t just scary, it was downright terrifying to question some really huge things, like what happens after we die and if there is even really a God out there, but after awhile of being in this intimidating place of not knowing, I began to realize that it didn’t have to be scary or nerve-wracking.  I’d assumed that being unsure and not knowing was a negative thing, because that’s what the world has taught me.  That it’s bad to question certain things, and that not knowing something as important as where you stand on religion most certainly means your soul faces impending eternal doom.  This revelation of mine got me thinking about how, as human beings, we seem to fear the unknown so much, that most of us dare not question anything.  We have this almost primal need to cling to a set of beliefs, and we cling to them desperately, even when we are uncertain about our beliefs or have questions about them.  Surely having certain beliefs that we hold true even if we are unsure of their validity is better than having no beliefs at all and being completely uncertain, right?  Some time ago, I may have answered that question with “right”, but today, I would answer, “WRONG”.

I feel like maybe society has taught us that inviting skepticism is wrong; that all skeptics are bad people whose souls are “lost” and are surely headed down a very treacherous path.  I feel like we’ve been taught that we must been incredibly defensive about our beliefs, and that if someone asks questions, they must be trying to destroy and devalue your entire belief system; we’ve been taught to go on the defensive when someone asks even the most innocent question where religion and spirituality are concerned.  This doesn’t make sense to me.  Asking questions doesn’t mean you are challenging someones beliefs, more often than not, questions are asked because the person asking wishes to know more about something they don’t know everything about.  Are we afraid that our beliefs won’t “sell themselves” and stand up to scrutiny?  Do we feel that our beliefs are so carefully and precariously fitted together that the least amount of doubt will cause the whole system to tumble down and fall apart?  If that is what a certain religious belief is all about, I am not sure it is a belief I can stand behind.  I don’t want to stand for a set of beliefs that cannot tolerate questioning, skepticism, and scrutiny.  I don’t want to stand for a set of beliefs that discriminate against others and claim to be the only, the final, and the complete truth, above all others.  For me, that is not what beliefs and spirituality should be about.

For me, spirituality should be personal.  It should be something that can withhold lots of questioning.  Something that can change and evolve and grow as you do.  It should be something that you don’t always have to know, that you don’t always have to be certain about.  My own spirituality is something that I am still finding.  Truthfully, I still have many more questions than I do answers, but the more I grow, the more I am coming to realize that maybe that is the way it is supposed to be.  Maybe life is all about living in the now.  Maybe it is all about curiosity and adventure.  About bravery and being bold and asking questions, even if the questions you ask are the kinds that don’t come with clear-cut answers.  The only thing I know for sure about my own personal spirituality so far is the importance of possessing a relentless sense of hope, no matter how many punches to the gut life gives you; to possess a relentless sense of hope while living in uncertainty is the ultimate test.  A relentless hope and an unending sense of wonder are the two prominent aspects of my own spirituality.  To never cease to be amazed by both the big things and the small things in life.  To never stop asking questions, even if people will belittle and judge you for asking them.  To never give up hope in this life, even when life has shown you how incredibly cruel it can be.

Relentless hope.  An unending sense of wonder.  With those two things, I navigate through this life.  With those two things, I have found strength in not knowing.  

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Gold vs. Pink: It Shouldn’t Have to be a War

In case you didn’t know, this past month, September, was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  The color that represents childhood cancer is gold.  I think this September has probably been the most successful September so far in terms of raising awareness about childhood cancer.  That being said, we are far from widely recognized, and if you asked the average person off the street if they knew what we raised awareness for in September, they probably would not know that it is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.  But if you ask anyone what we raise awareness about in the month of October, nine out of ten people would be able to tell you that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and probably ten out of ten people could identify the pink ribbon as the ribbon for breast cancer.

Peoples know about breast cancer.  They know about the pink ribbon.  They know about the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  Sadly, most people also know someone who has had breast cancer, too.  But all this knowing, all this awareness, has done something incredible: it has made breast cancer more treatable than ever before and it has shed so much light on the importance of early detection, because early detection truly does save lives.  So all of this is good news, right?  Yes, it is good news.  Nobody should have to suffer through cancer and nobody should have their life stolen from it.  The awareness and money raised for breast cancer has truly changed the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated and that is incredible.

While I am forever grateful for the strides made in breast cancer treatment, I sometimes feel that powerhouse organizations/foundations like The Susan G. Komen Foundation may have lost some of the values it began with as it rose to the top.  Raising awareness and making sure your voice is heard can be done in a productive, positive and beneficial way without dominating other cancer charities or shoving others out of the spotlight.  I am sure The Susan G. Komen foundation as a whole is a good foundation that does good things, but I also feel that there may be a few individuals within the foundation with a lot of power who have lost sight of what this is all about and might have become a bit drunk on power on their rise to the top.

It is hard to cover up ones wrong-doings in this day and age because we have technology and almost limitless knowledge at our fingertips.  Just a bit of brief research can yield unsettling results, stories of certain breast cancer foundations doing their best to keep other breast cancer foundations (as well as charities for other cancers) from reaching their level of success, among many other things.  This past September, The Susan G. Komen Foundation started their advertising a month early for their awareness month, October.  With how widely recognized TSGKF has become, it is easy for them to squash out the little guys, particularly the children whose awareness month happens to fall right before October.  Isn’t it children, over all other groups of people, that need to be stood up for the most?  After all, children depend on adults to be their voice, their advocate, when they are too small to speak for themselves.

So right now you’re probably thinking, “Wow, Kassie, what the hell is wrong with you?  Are you seriously talking badly about breast cancer and claiming that they are corrupt and do bad things?  Do you think that only childhood cancer is important and that no other cancer is?”  No, no I don’t.  I am grateful for all the positive that The Susan G. Komen Foundation has brought to the world.  I do, however, believe that what once started with the purest of intentions may have become distorted over time and with power.  You might know why I am so passionate about fighting cancer, specifically childhood cancer.  You should know that cancer crash landed into my life in the middle of August 2010 when my best friend (an incredible foster mother and angel walking among us on this earth) was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that had already spread to her liver, lungs, kidneys, and bones.  Ann died in February of 2011.  Just a few weeks after the devastating news of Ann’s cancer diagnosis, on August 31, 2010, my grandma AND my little brother were diagnosed with cancer on the same day.  My brother had synovial sarcoma and my grandma had breast cancer.  Did you know that early detection saved my grandma’s life?  That they caught her breast cancer early, did surgery, and just a few rounds of chemotherapy and she was in remission?  Do you know how amazing that is?  My brother embarked on a year long treatment plan of intravenous high dose chemotherapy and radiation that have many dangerous long-term side effects that can include developing a secondary cancer.  I am forever grateful to report that today, he is doing well, he is healthy, he is alive.  But so many kids that we met along Coleman’s journey didn’t make it, they aren’t here anymore and they SHOULD STILL BE HERE.

So what I am trying to say, although I think this whole post is not flowing very nicely or making much sense, is that I am glad for breast cancer awareness. I will always support breast cancer research.  I will alway support ALL cancer research, because we have so very very far to come.  But what I want to get across more than anything is that childhood cancer needs to be more widely recognized.  It just does.  For Ty, Ronan, Coleman, Kate, Ezra, Layla Grace, the list goes on and on and on.  I’m trying to say that cancer foundations and charities need to have respect and compassion for one another.  The little guy (childhood cancer) that the general public does not know nearly enough about does not deserve to be stomped on by the big guys who have more power and publicity than them.  If anything, I think the most successful cancer foundations should actively support other cancer organizations because isn’t the ultimate goal to cure the terrible beast that is cancer?  Or is their goal only to focus on their specific cancer?  

So here we are.  It is October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Am I stomping my feet and crying out, “BREAST CANCER DOESN’T MATTER, FOCUS ON CHILDHOOD CANCER ONLY!”  HELL NO, I am not.  I am all for awareness, all for new research, and I am DEFINITELY all for a cure. But please, does it have to be a war?  And if the pink ribbon decides to go into the boxing ring against any other cancer foundation other than their own, is it fair that they have (on certain occasions) made their opponents CHILDREN?  Children should never have adults fighting against them, adults should be fighting for them.  If children don’t have adults fighting for and protecting them, who do they have?  

Be proactive.  Support all cancer research.  Bring awareness to ALL cancers.  Give each and every person fighting in the battle of their lives a voice.  Cancer is scary, dark, terrible, and sad.  It is hard enough to talk about adults having cancer, but most people find it near impossible to talk about childhood cancer because it is just so devastating.  Yes, it is devastating.  It is terrible and awful and cruel and inhumane and unthinkable.  But it is real.  It is happening.  Kids are fighting it and dying from it every single day.  People are too “uncomfortable” and “sad” to talk about childhood cancer, and the decision people have made to sweep it under the rug is costing kids the ultimate price: their lives.  I will NOT sit by and let children, one after another after another, pay with their lives just so the rest of the world can go about their daily lives pretending something as terrible and monstrous as childhood cancer does not exist.

Wake up.  Kids get cancer too.  Do you know the first step we as a society have to take in order to find a cure to childhood cancers?  We have to freaking admit that it exists and that it has been stealing the lives of countless children for far too long while we all turned a blind eye to their suffering.  Awareness is everything.

(note: thank you for reading this post.  this post was a difficult one for me to write, because i am very passionate about it and also because cancer has affected my life so dramatically, both breast cancer, childhood cancer, and other types of cancer.  we are all entitled to our opinion, and this one is mine.  please understand that there is nothing more that i could possibly want than a cure for ALL cancers.  this is also me standing up for the children who do not have a voice.)

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Passion Gives Purpose

Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted… unbidden… it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us… passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we’d know some kind of peace… but we would be hollow… Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we’d be truly dead.”
– Joss Whedon,
Screenwriter and Director

A life lacking passion is a life I want no part of. Life is much too short to live “safely”, to always play by the rules, to be afraid to think outside of the box. Life is too short for words like “can’t” and “won’t” and “never”. A life consumed by “what ifs” and “better safe than sorry” is a life lived in a mental prison that you’ve created yourself. Don’t get trapped in a world where you suppress your emotions and deny others love because you know that to feel and to love is to put yourself out there, risk it all, to give another person the ability to build you up or break you down. Love we deny others is ultimately love we deny ourselves.

Find something that lights a fire within you, inspires you, motivates you, and once you’ve found that passion, follow it, turn it into something beautiful, and make the world a better place because of it.

Live with intention. With meaning, value, determination, fire, compassion, spice, vigor and love. When you find your passion and follow it, both you and the world around you benefit and become more beautiful.

Passion gives purpose to our lives and all we do. Are you following your passion?

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I Cried with Strangers Today

I was sent home from work today because I came in sick and there’s been some nasty germs going around lately, so they didn’t want me there. Once I got home I walked to the little Mexican place right underneath my apartment complex and grabbed some black beans, chips, and guacamole. I walked back outside to find a little card table set up, with pictures on it and information. Behind the table sat two people, a husband and wife. I stopped at the table to find out what it was all about. I looked at a picture of a guy about my age, huge smile on his face, in his maroon cap and gown, a graduation picture from my school, Arizona State University.

The woman said, “That’s our son. His name was Zach. He was a musician and graduated just this past May. He was killed in a car accident this summer. We are trying to raise awareness and funds to create a music scholarship in his name here at Arizona State, for other young people who have the same passion and love for music that he had.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. I told her I was so, so incredibly sorry. She went on to explain how the accident happened, and I got the biggest lump in my throat, because it was similar to the accident that I was in, except I walked away from the accident I was in, and her son did not. She asked if I was okay. I said I was in a very bad accident on July 4th, and that I don’t know how I survived it, and neither did the witnesses to the accident. Tears immediately started pouring down her cheeks. She looked into my eyes and told me their son was in his accident on July 7th, just a few days after mine. At that point, the three of us all started crying, but it wasn’t weird or uncomfortable, even though they were complete strangers. There was some indescribable unspoken connection we all had in that moment, and even though the best thing I could offer them was my deepest and truest, “I am so incredibly sorry”, I could tell that they understood how very much I meant it, and that it meant a lot to them as well.

Zach’s mom proceeded to ask me what grade I was in and what I was studying. I told her. She wanted to know what lead me to that career choice. I told her about my brother, when he was diagnosed with cancer. I told her about my best friend. I told her about Ronan. “Ronan.. Ronan… we just read a story about him! That was amazing what Taylor Swift did, she truly is a beautiful soul.” We continued to talk for a few minutes, before I dug through my purse to donate what little cash I’ve got, to this truly important cause. We talked about foundations, about their dream to turn Zach’s Fund into something bigger someday. We talked about 501(c)3 non-profit statuses, school, ambitions. We just talked. We connected. We cried. Crying with another person (stranger or otherwise) feels sacred, in a way. Such a sacred place, the land of tears.

Life is so fragile and so precious. It can be taken away in a millisecond, and nothing about that will ever be fair. To Zach’s family, I am so incredibly sorry. He should still be here. Zach’s parents told me that Zach always used to say, “Don’t do it someday, do it today. Today is better than someday.” We can all learn from that.

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Wonderful Things Are Happening

Wonderful Things Are Happening

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Go Gold for September, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

It’s September everybody!  Do you know what that means?  It means Childhood Cancer Awareness Month!  True, essentially everyday of my life is Childhood Cancer Awareness Day (that’s because my future career and the current work I do now all center around working with pediatric cancer and finding a cure), but this month is a particularly difficult but important month for those of us in the childhood cancer community.  It is a difficult one because it is an overwhelming reminder of just how many children we have lost to this terrible disease as well as the ridiculously high number of children who are currently battling this beast.  It is important because it is the one month we can call our own, and in this short span of thirty days we try to raise as much awareness as possible about childhood cancer, something the general public really doesn’t know all that much about.

Raising awareness for childhood cancer can be a real challenge though.  Why, you might ask?  Everyone cares about children, right?  So why would it be so hard to make the public aware about the facts?  WELL, childhood cancer is a very devastating thing.  People don’t typically associate children with cancer, and of course they don’t, because it is a terrifying and sickening thought.  Nobody deserves to suffer through cancer, especially not innocent little children.    People think, “Pediatric cancer is rare, not that many children get it” or “It won’t happen to my family, it could never be my kid.”  Believe me, anyone who found themselves in the childhood cancer community thought exactly the same way at one point.  “It couldn’t be MY son, couldn’t be MY daughter, there’s no way it could happen to MY sister or MY brother.” I speak from experience, I never in a million years thought childhood cancer would touch the life of anyone I love, until my own little brother was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer called synovial sarcoma on August 31, 2010.  That is when the reality of childhood cancer smacked me in the face and the world as I knew it came crashing down around me.  From that point forward, I promised myself to do whatever it took to make a difference in the childhood cancer world, and I have stayed true to that promise.

People avoid talking about childhood cancer because it is devastating, it is scary, sad, terrifying, the list goes on and on.  It seems as if the general public feels that maybe if they pretend childhood cancer doesn’t exist, it will just go away.  Maybe if they avoid the topic enough, it will solve itself.  People avoid talking about it like it is catching, as if talking about childhood cancer will mean their child or loved one will get cancer too.  People believe that saying something about it, having an open dialogue about cancer will not make a difference.  They are afraid to talk about a sensitive topic, fearing they will offend or hurt someone else, and as a result choose to avoid the topic entirely.  I think as a society we are so fearful of negative emotions like pain, sadness, anger, loss, and grief, that we really go out of our way to ensure we don’t have to talk about or experience anything that might bring up those powerful emotions; and when we do experience something that brings up such emotions, we are constantly encouraged to “get over it” or “move on” or “find peace within the situation”.  As difficult as these “negative” emotions are, they are vital to us.  We need to experience sadness because it provides us with a sense of empathy.  Empathy cannot exist without sadness, therefore sadness is not a bad thing, although many people feel that it is.  Anger is another emotion we tend to avoid, but it can be one of the greatest motivators we have for action.  While it is true that anger can be harnessed and used for negative things, it can also be harnessed and used for positive things, to make real and lasting change in this world.  Without anger it is likely nothing would get done and the world would be very much lacking in passion.  No matter how actively we ignore “negative” emotions like sadness and anger, those emotions aren’t going anywhere, but if they are accepted they can be dealt with and used in a powerfully constructive way.

So what I’m really trying to say here is that in order to make real change in the childhood cancer world, people need to know the facts.  People need to hear the stories.  People need to experience these “negative” emotions and not ignore them, avoid them, or sweep them under the rug.  People need to be aware that childhood cancer is not rare.  They need to get sad and angry and passionate, and then they need to use those emotions to fuel positive, real, and lasting change.  I fight on behalf on all the kids who have lost their life to cancer.  I fight for all the children who are currently battling this beast.  Finally, the two reasons closest to my heart, the reasons I fight like hell, is for my brother Coleman (who I am so beyond grateful to report is healthy today) and for Ronan Sean Thompson (who lost his life just before his fourth birthday).  They are my reasons, and for them I will never stop fighting, I will never give up, and I will never, ever back down.

This month, please keep these three facts in mind, and share them with the people in your life:

  • 46 children are diagnosed with cancer every single day, 7 of them will die today.
  • Childhood cancer is the NUMBER ONE disease killer in children. 
  • Pediatric cancer only receives 3.8% of all cancer research funding. 

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