Sunday, November 25, 2012

Life Is a Lottery

"That's all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience. Everything is explained by that simple formula. Tot it up – look at the respective piles. There's nothing you can do about it: nobody shares it out, allocates it to this one or that, it just happens."


I came across this quote while watching "Any Human Heart" - a mini-series based upon the book of the same title by author William Boyd.  Just came across it on Netflix during some down time over the holiday weekend.

The main character's father shares his insight about life with his son as he is dying is based upon good and bad luck.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Not sure I believe it 100% but if you really think about it, perhaps it has a little truth to it.  


Certainly there have been some lucky circumstances in my life - as well as unlucky.

And I suspect I am not alone here.

I have always chalked much of this to fate.  But perhaps fate is really good or bad luck?

Webster's Dictionary defines luck as:  

 "the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual"

And fate?

"the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do"

I have always considered myself lucky to have met Brian.....always considered myself lucky that he loved me.  

Yet, the way we met....the timing that we crossed paths...well that was fate.  And how incredibly lucky that I was in that spot at that exact moment.  What if I had chatted with my friends for a few more seconds before I walked away and completely missed the opportunity to encounter Brian?  

Think about many of your relationships.  Mere seconds or a step or two in another direction would have caused me to have different friendships.  

I have always been a true believer of fate.  But now, sheer luck seems to be more likely what is controlling my life.  The kind of luck that follows you around in a casino.

Yes.  I said it.  Chance. 

Sometimes you pull the slot machine handle and you get straight 7's, bells begin to ring and lights start flashing.  Brian entering my life - and subsequently changing the path of my life that evening - was like winning the lottery.  Can you imagine winning the lottery and your life NOT changing even a little bit.  And really, what causes you to win or lose the lottery?  Good or bad luck.

I can identify plenty of situations in my life - good and bad - that definitely were due somewhat by my decisions.  Yet, were my decisions the entire factor in the outcome?  Certainly we have all made bad decisions in which the outcomes were not as bad as one would suspect.  So, did a little good luck counter that bad decision?

Or think about those situations in which you put lots of effort, sweat and time into doing something well.....yet, it still didn't go well.  Sure, many times all that effort pays off....but many times it doesn't.  Why is that?  Perhaps good or bad luck running interference?

As I reflect on my life so far, I certainly feel I have had my share of bad luck.  But, some circumstances of that bad luck has created other encounters or situations in my life which have been a little good luck joining in?

Becoming a widow at such a young age and losing out on the lifetime I had planned with Brian appears to be bad luck meddling in both our lives.  I really am not sure how any decisions either of us made created that situation.

And the sadness that followed - and continues to follow - certainly makes bad luck seem like it is following me along just like the sadness.

However, there have been plenty of outstanding opportunities and friendships that I have encountered these past 8 years because Brian passed away.

Still, I'd prefer the life with him.....but his passing changed my life just as my meeting him changed my life.....pure chance.....good luck and bad luck.

So as much as we all like to plan out our lives, in reality, we should spend more time living it and being prepared to accept the good/bad luck, and roll with the dice.

Life is a lottery!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The 30 days of Movember - A Fitness Challenge

With  my post RAGBRAI/Chicago Marathon exercise break becoming more and more resembling laziness.....I dragged my sorry butt to the gym this evening - it wasn't easy.  My couch was begging me to take a seat and check-in on the latest Superstorm Sandy coverage.  

But my body was saying something different.  My body was begging me to stretch out my limbs, to workout some of the stress that we all build up from life in general, to get the endorphins flowing.

So, my body won tonight.  Unfortunately, I had to take my workout indoors - no more rides or runs outdoors due to the darkness with the earlier evenings.  

I picked out a dreadmill (aka a treadmill) and got my legs moving.  Wow!  I hadn't forgotten how to put one foot in front of the other at a quick pace...shocking!

I decided I should take it easy having not really run much in the past few months.  So slowly I trotted along....picking up the pace as my legs warmed up.  But I promised myself  I was only going to run for 30 minutes.  I was not going to push myself.  Let's take this easy.

During that 30 minutes I started to think about setting a new challenge for myself.

Drum roll please.....

I will participate in 30 minutes of activity each day of Movember.

No, that is not a type.  Movember is the month previously known as November.  Check out this website if you don't know about Movember.  Movember is when men grow mustaches for the month while spreading awareness and raising funds for men's health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer..

Of course, I cannot grow a mustache, but I can certainly help inspire others to be healthier and learn more about ways to prevent cancer. 

Since exercise is known to help prevent cancer, my challenge involves exercise.

For the 30 days of Movember, I am challenging all of you to consider joining me to do some activity for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.

Dancing around your house
Playing tag with your kids
Hula hooping
Strength training

Anything....the point is to get off your get active for 30 minutes each day.  Don't have 30 minutes?  Really?  Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier.  Take a walk during your lunch.  Take 30 minutes to play with your kids.

Get active!

And if you are a male, grow a mustache while you are at it.

An extra bonus?  We will already be ahead of the game for the holiday meals and goodies that we so regret in January.  We will already be on a path of being active!

So....who wants to join me?  Take on the challenge with me?  Join in on Movember?

To join the challenge - request to  join the private Facebook group:  30 Days of Movember - A Fitness Challenge using this link

Once I add you to the page, post your daily 30 minutes of activity.  We will support each other....provide encouragement....become cheerleaders for one another.  All while creating healthier lifestyles for all of us.

And don't forget to sign up for Movember.  There is no cost associated and even if you only raise $20, the funds add up.  Last year, Movember raised over $124 million worldwide in ONE month!  Become a MoBro and grow a hairy ribbon on your upper lip to fight Prostate Cancer.  Ladies, show your support and become a MoSista!  

Come on!  What are you waiting for???

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My To Do List

To Do lists.

You either love them or hate them.

I love them when I am crossing things off - nothing like that sense of accomplishment, regardless of how mundane the items.

I will admit though that I hate to make to do lists.

Creating lists require me to be organized in my know what it is I want to accomplish.

The sheer idea of thinking of all the mundane things that need to get done - clean the refrigerator, sort the mail, stop at the dry cleaner, return x,y, & Z to the store...etc, etc, etc - drives me crazy.

Life is too mundane to begin with.  Why would I want to make a list outlining the numerous mundane things I have to do?

Nope....all the fantastic feeling of accomplishment crossing things off the "to do" list doesn't outweigh the cons of completing a "to do" list for me.


Unless it is something larger than the mundane tasks.


Unless it is about living life.


Unless it is about finding joy in those mundane parts of life.

I am a follower of the blog and website Tiny Budda  and am inspired daily by quotes, words of wisdom, various posts about life in general.

This week I came across a post entitled "10 Simple Ways to Enjoy Life's Journey More."

Now here was a "to do" list I could get my arms around, that I could get excited about, that I looked forward to accomplishing.

Simple things like - 

Take a discovery walk.   Today, while I was lying on the couch with my daughter, just enjoying a quiet moment together, I was taken aback by the sun streaming through our front window with the orange red burnt leaves blowing in the wind.  This moment reminded of my "Enjoy Life's Journey To Do List",  so I asked Rachel to join me on a walk around the neighborhood.  I usually run along the route we the shadowy sun-rising morning hour....and never really took time to enjoy my neighbors gardens, the fall decorations, etc.  What a joy to walk alongside my bubbly 9 year old as she chatted about life as a 9 year old....with her hand in mine.  Wonderful.

Take lessons or classes  My children certainly do this - Rachel takes cello , her brother attends circus camps, all the kids have attended various camps/lessons for sports and music.  Seems so simple to sign them up.  At what point did I decide that I no longer needed to learn new things?  Guess what.  That is ending this week.  I've decided to sign up for a Rock Climbing class.  And I'm also toying with the idea of learning how to play another instrument in addition to those piano lessons I took as a child ...maybe the guitar or violin.  And a language would be fun....perhaps Italian so I can dream about an exotic vacation in the far, far, far-off future?  

Keep a gratitude journal  Such an easy thing to do but something I had never done until a friend suggested it several years ago.  What a difference it made in my outlook.  At first, I really had to think about my day and what I could be grateful for.  But a few days in, I began to notice myself showing gratitude throughout the those little things we so very often overlook became so evident.  Talk about changing your mindset.  This was a game changer for me.....until I became to comfortable and stopped writing them down.  And then I had a difficult situation thrown in my lap that lead to a very tough few months - a time when I probably needed a gratitude journal more than ever - but it was something that was completely forgotten about.     Today I began to take note again....and it was the little things like the sun streaming in the window, the squeeze of my daughter's hand in mine, a little baby overjoyed with glee when a dog appeared at the park during our walk.  Simple things....things we overlook.....and when we take notice....have the ability to change our outlook.

And my favorite on the list?

Bike more.  OK, twist my arm!

My least favorite on the list?

Create a detailed plan for your day.  Oh no!  Not create a "to do list" within my no to do list list??  Further inspection does not indicate creating a list of the mundane things you need to get done but to make sure that you include those really amazing experiences you want to enjoy so those mundane items don't take over.  OK,....I can accept this one.

My plan is to check off all the items on this list.....over and over again.  This isn't a list that will get crumpled up and thrown away when it is completed.  No way.  This is a list that will continue to tell my life's story.  To help me enjoy the journey.  Yes, there will still be all those mundane things in life that have to be done, but in the end, it is the list of how I enjoyed my life that will matter.

Who wants to join me??

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Time to Get Unstuck

I was asked point blank this week if I was happy.  Without a pause or moment of reflection, my answer was "no."

And the person that asked me this question wasn't surprised by the answer.  Yet I was.

I was shocked at how effortlessly I was able to respond and with such clarity.

I hope I am alone in feeling this way but I am sure I am not.  It is a tricky feeling.

The last few years I have felt stuck.  Felt trapped.  Felt as though I was treading water,  Felt unfulfilled.  Felt just plan and simply - BLAH.

Yes, I have accomplished a lot.  Yes, I have wonderful children.  Yes, I have great health.  Yes, I have a great job.

But, it isn't enough.  I having this nagging feeling all the time that I am wasting time.

I am just not happy with where I am in life.

Where do we spend most of the hours of our life?  At work.  And the last few years, work has become just

I used to look forward to going to work, to do something that fulfilled me and made a difference.

Don't get me wrong.  I have a fantastic job with a fantastic employer.....but I am not happy doing what I am doing anymore.  It isn't what the company is asking me to do.  I am just not happy working in corporate america.  I am very appreciative of my job and my employer.  It is just that I think I have changed....and I need something else.  Office politics and I don't work well together.

Being a city girl that loves the hustle and bustle living is a small town, doesn't help matters.  Yet, this is a fantastic town.....again, don't get me wrong.  I have fabulous friends, a fabulous support system, my kids are in great schools, have great friends and to them. this is home.

Over the years, I have shared that I feel "trapped" in my life....however, as most of us, I do not have the luxury of just quitting my job and picking up to live elsewhere.  Years ago, I would have done just that.  But, being the sole breadwinner and being responsible for more than just me, doesn't make that seem feasible.

That conversation a few days ago has been nagging at has continued to pop up in my mind.  Are you happy?  No.

So what do I do with that revelation?  How to I make a much needed change?  Where do I begin?

These are the thoughts that keep running through my head.

And I am sharing them with all of you to keep me honest.  And honestly, because I need your help.

I don't know where to begin.  I cant seem to see beyond that "have too's"  The "would be niceties and the life changing ideas" don't seem to be jumping out at me.

Deep down I know I need to figure out what it is I want to do with my life.  I want to be in a job that brings me more joy, that impacts people, that isn't fraught with office "politics."  I want to be in more control of my schedule....of my day.....of my life.

Yet, I love my employer.  I do enjoy where I work.  It just doesn't give me enough personal satisfaction.  Work has become just

So, where to go from here?

I need to make some changes.  I need to either need to embrace my current state and add to it another aspect that makes me feel fulfilled or make a change - new job, new city. etc.

Enough of me just thinking about it....time to think about taking action.

What is it I want to do?  I haven't a clue.  I just know I want to be doing something different.

So, I ask all of you that know me in such a variety of avenues, what is it you see in me?  What is it you think are my strengths?  What is it you see me being successful at?  What is it you see me taking a risk on?

What ideas and suggestions do you all have for me?

I know it is a lot to ask you, but I know we wouldn't be friends if we didn't look out for one another.

This is about finding a daily activity (I hate to just the word job) that makes me happy....which makes my children happy....which makes me happier....and makes me a much more interesting friend to spend time with.

Many of you know that I've been barely staying afloat.  Somehow with all that has happened the past 8 years, I forgot to keep moving forward and just got stuck.

Perhaps this is just a mid-life crisis (kind of feels like one) but I'm not out buying a red convertible....still driving the blue mini-van.

Help me get unstuck!  I am ready!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Stopping to Smell the Roses along 26.2 Miles

I feel as though I should provide some sort of disclaimer for the story I am about to share.   What I did this weekend is not something I would recommend anyone do on a routine basis....but boy, was it worth it!

No, I did not jump out of another airplane.  Nor did I rappel off the side of a skyscraper.

I ran the Chicago Marathon.

"Huh?" you may ask.  "What's wrong with that?  You are a runner Barb.  RunningSTRONG for Hope - duh."

Well, I ran it without training.

A typical training plan for a marathon takes 18 weeks.  18 weeks ago was June 3rd.

Hence my problem.

I was in the middle of training for my biggest challenge to date - cycling across Iowa for a week in 100 degree temperatures.

OK, some of you may not find that to be a big hurdle.  But for me, cycling was not something I was comfortable with.  The longest I had ever ridden was 65 miles this past October ....and that was difficult.  

I didn't feel at ease with my bike.  

The little bit of cycling I had done in the past didn't prepare me for 7 consecutive days of cycling - with the shortest day being over 50 miles.  And did I mention the sweltering heat in the middle of cornfields in July?  Oh, and camping in this heat was involved.

So, starting a marathon training program back in June was not on my radar.  I figured when RAGBRAI was over in July, I'd just pick up running again.

Or so I thought.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I became a cyclist on that trip across Iowa.  Somehow along the way, I found I didn't enjoy running anymore.

Some of these feelings had been festering for sometime.  Maybe it was a little running burnout from my half marathon a month in 2011.  Maybe it was my running group breaking up due to work commitments and moves.  

All I know for sure is the few times I tried to run after RAGBRAI were torture.  I didn't enjoy it at all.  So, instead I signed up to ride a Century in Door County Wisconsin, which required more time on the bike.

Yes, I did get in a few runs.  I am embarrassed to admit that the longest run I did this year other than the Austin Half Marathon in February and the Illinois Half Marathon in April was 7 miles.  And that 7 miles was downhill.....down the bottom end of Mt Hood in Oregon.  So I had gravity on my side for that run.

Yet here I was on Sunday morning.  Lining up with close to 40,000 other runners in Grant Park under the Chicago skyline as the sun rose.

Lining up in Corral E...the charity corral.  Lining up next to serious sub 3:30 marathoners and first timers with plans to make it to the finish before the course closed.  Team-in-Training, Team to End Aids, PAWS, Fox Foundation, Team World Vision, Imerman Angels, and numerous other organizations.  Over 3,000 runners that not only dedicated their time to complete a 18 week training program but to also fundraise for causes near and dear to them.

I was surrounded by a sea of yellow.  This is why I was there.  This is why I showed up regardless of my training.  To participate as a member of Team LIVESTRONG.  A team of over 250 runners that raised over $230,000 to kick cancer to the curb.  Over 80% of those funds go directly to programs that assist cancer survivors.

On my wrist were the names of 26 cancer warriors - most that ran out of time in their battle with cancer....others still showing cancer who is boss.  Each mile along the route was dedicated to one of these folks.  

My mom and dad were mile 1 and 2.  Fitting since my life began because of them so it only made sense that this journey began with them.  Mile 25 and 26 (plus .2) were dedicated to my sister Janet and my husband Brian.  Again fitting because both were very instrumental in my adult life and have left an enormous footprint on the Barbara that you know.

In between were grandparents, sisters, fathers, friends, a son and daughter.....all loved ones that were very important to a variety of my friends - friends I have made throughout my lifetime.  Some friends from high school, others from college, one or two from my work life, many others from my experiences with LIVESTRONG and a few others complete strangers I know only from Twitter or my blog.

These 26.2 angels that were along for the run are why I was there.  Why I was putting myself through the intense pain a marathon causes a human body to endure - even worse for a body that wasn't trained.  

And although only 2,000 people finished behind me....and this was by far the slowest marathon I ever was the most memorable marathon for me.

I ran alongside my friend Kate for the first 16 miles.  This was Kate's second marathon with Team LIVESTRONG but her first one was derailed by a bum knee that forced her out at mile 3.  I was there at mile 3 cheering her on when she realized she had to stop.  Hardest decision for a runner to make but she made the right decision.  No doubt about it.  One knee surgery later and she was back again this year.

She tells me I got her through the first 16 miles but it was her that got me through those 16 miles.  Without Kate's diligence to stick to our Jeff Galloway run/walk plan (we both decided this was the smart route to take since I was under-trained and she was unsure of her knee), I am certain I wouldn't have finished as I would have gone out too fast and crashed.  Every 4 minutes Kate would let me know it was time to walk....and 1 minute later she'd remind me it was time to start again. 

Eventually we did part ways but not until we mutually agreed to do so at mile 16.  

I ran the next 8 miles - typically the dreaded death march and hitting the wall miles - with ease.  I stuck to our plan but picked up the running pace just a little.  Surprisingly, I felt great.  

I had no business being out there.  But with each mile marker, I would look down at my wrist and see the dedication for that mile.  And thinking of that individual.....or the friend that made the dedication.....inspired me to keep going.

At mile 24 I came across another teammate that at first glance was just taking a walk break.  But once I saw his face, I knew something wasn't right.  He was injured and had been walking with great difficulty since mile 20.  It was cold on Sunday and he was shivering.  The sun had ducked behind some clouds and the wind off Lake Michigan had picked up a bit - not great for a body that was just sweating.

We began chatting and although he suggested I go on and finish, there was no way I was going to leave this gentleman - a cancer survivor no less.....and thereby a hero in my eyes.  I was finishing with matter how we got there....and was immensely honored to cross that finish line with him.  His determination was inspiring.  As we walked together, we shared our stories.  It was, by far, the most touching moment I have ever had in all the races I have run over the years.

I showed him my wrist band and shared with him mile 25 was for my sister Janet.  It struck me how appropriate this was as Janet would do anything for anyone.  She always put others before herself and her needs.  Perfect for this mile.

Mile 26 was from Brian and with every marathon  I have always teared up crossing the finish line.  Partially because just finishing a marathon is such an overwhelming experience but also because I started all this to honor Brian.  And after watching him suffer through his cancer, through the pain - both physically and emotionally, finishing a marathon always reminds me of this pain....and how much he suffered knowing how difficult life would be for myself and the kids without him in our lives.

It was so appropriate that I was running this last mile in honor of Brian with my new friend - who during that last mile was making a video of us running....and added a message for his was apparent how much he loves her and how much their love for one another helped him during this race and the race for his life.

Yes, was hard.  I would never recommend anyone try this....and I'll never run a half or full again without training.

I do wonder if I had trained would my experience been as inspirational to me.

And yes, I did high five every kid along the way, read as many posters as I could, thanked volunteers, danced along with the music on the course, chatted with a few friends I came across spectating and had a beer.  And thanks to Kate, I finally noticed The United Center after running by it three times.   All things that I would have missed had I been going for the 4 hour marathon.

And yes, I did realize I do enjoy running still.  Although, now I also enjoy cycling too.

Pain really is temporary.  Stopping to smell the roses is memorable.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Albert Camus

It has been a rough couple of years for me.  I guess you could say rough decade considering I have lost my sister whom was more like a friend to me than a sibling, my father, my brother-in-law - the husband of my sister that passed earlier....and may as well have been a brother since they started dating when I was 6, and my spouse.  

At first, none of these deaths seemed to affect me.  At first, I just kept moving forward.  

About a year after Janet's passing, I remember breaking down into tears standing in the middle of our kitchen.  I don't recall what triggered the breakdown - most likely nothing.  But suddenly I was crying.  I didn't feel it coming on....the tears just started....and wouldn't stop.

I remember Brian coming around the corner from the living room and without saying a word, enveloped me in his arms, hugging me for what seemed like an eternity as I sobbed....and sobbed....and sobbed. 

I remember the feeling of being safe, the feeling that it was okay to be sad, it was okay to let my feelings take over, the feeling of comfort, and the intense love we had for one another.  That loving support....he had absolutely no idea why I was crying - or at least what had caused the river to begin - but deep down he knew.  

He knew I was filled with sadness.  He knew I missed Janet terribly.  He knew I was out of sorts.  He knew I was in a state of depression.  He knew Ii was just walking through the motions of each day.  He knew I was grieving. 

Once the crying subsided and I took a deep breath, he shared all this with me....the recognition of my emotional state that I had been ignoreing.  He told me he knew I was depressed.  He knew I had an overwhelming sadness taking over my soul from the death of Janet.  He knew I was in dispair. 

And he accepted it.  

He knew I could do better each day....I could be more engaged....I could be more involved. 

But he accepted that I wasn't. 

He understood.  

He had amble opportunity to be angry with my withdrawn behavior that year.  He had numerous opportunities to turn away and move forward without me.  He could have walked away.  He could have ignored me,   

But he never did.  

His acknowledgement of my sadness and patience in waiiting for me to recognize it was a true testament to the love Brian had for me.  He was concerned, yet he wanted me to find my own way, and stood by me allowing me to get to that point when the flood gates would open....naturally....on my own terms. 

He didn't give up on me.  He allowed me to find my way.  He provided the support I needed - when I didn't realize I needed it nor acknowledged it.  He held me up when I faltered.

But most importantly, he walked beside me....he waited....he loved me.  

Over the next year, there was need for him to fill that role again....after a miscarriage and then the passing of my father.  Once again I demonstrated that strength so many see in me, yet inside,unknown to myself, I was a wreck.  And Brian knew it.  And Brian supported me. And Brian waited.  And Brian caught me when I fell.  

He understood that everything comes in good time....good and bad.

Unfortunately, he wasn't there for me when I needed him the most.....after his own passing.  And just like my past experiences, I needed to be strong.  For our children.  For his family.  For those coming to his visitation.  For those around me.  For most do not know how to react to a grieving widow.  And showing strength made it easier for everyone.

Those of you that have been following along the past year or so know it hasn't been an easy few years.  Although it has been 8 years since Brian passed, the grieving doesn't just go away.  It doesn't go away with one good cry.  

It takes time.  It sits inside you.  It pops up here and there.  It really never goes away.

Brian understood that.  

Thankfully I have friends that understand that too.  But for everyone else out there, please recognize that we all grieve differently.  And it doesn't ever go away.  It sits there....and sometimes the tears just appear for no reason.

Why do I mention this today?  Well, for no reason today, as I was walking to my car after work, it hit me.  As it has before.....and will again.  For no reason whatsoever.  

And I missed having Brian there to "walk around the corner to comfort me."

A hug from Rachel did just that after seeing her smile across the room from me today at her first cello lesson.  Somehow, she knew her mom needed a hug and a smile,

So what do I ask you to take from this?  Stand beside your friends....just wait....offer support....and wait.  You may think they should be ready to move get laugh.  But really, they probably don't know they need that themselves.  And telling them what they need won't work.  

A soul in distress needs nurturing....and support along the way.....and a wordless hug when the flood gates break.

Thanks to all of you that have understood that over the know who you are....I love you and appreciate you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Bonus Days

"When the heart grieves over what is has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has left.

8 years ago I endured the worst 24 hours of my life....

8 years ago, Brian was taken into emergency surgery.....

From the same hospital bed he had spent the last week.....

From the moment he was admitted to the hospital for a low blood count.....

To the moment he returned from "exploratory surgery" which identified cancer throughout his body....

The same hospital bed he shared with our 9 and 6 year old boys that he had cancer....

The same hospital bed that he watched the 2004 Summer Olympics and the swimming competition with Jay and Nolan sitting beside him.....

The same hospital bed that we discussed insurance coverage and that he panicked about who the beneficiary was on the life insurance policy his grandmother had the foresight to purchase for him as a college graduation gift.

Less than an hour earlier, I had called one of his closest friends from college to share the news that Brian was in the hospital and was diagnosed with cancer.....

Less than an hour earlier I had shared with his friend that we were heading to Houston for treatment options.....

Less than an hour earlier, I was making breakfast for our children.

As I rushed to the hospital after Brian's call and urgent voice that something was drastically wrong, I remember seeing all the kids moving in at Illinois Wesleyan College and being angry....

Angry that their lives were still going on.....

Angry that no one else was going through what we were going through.....

Angry that there was so much uncertainty in our lives.

I met my mother-in-law in the waiting area and we headed down to the chapel.  We were not there 5 minutes when we were paged.

10 minutes after I walked into the hospital....30 minutes after Brian was taken into surgery.

This could not be good.

And it was worse than "this could not be good."

The surgeon - fighting through tears of his own - shared that there were complications from his previous surgery.

Looking back I should have recognized that surgeons do not cry....

Looking back I should have known that the news was terrible....

Looking back I feel bad that I was so clueless and made the surgeon repeat himself....

Over and over.....

And finally he had to be direct and blunt....

There was nothing they could do.

What?  What?  I don't understand....

Nothing you can do?

Nothing we can do.....Brian has 24 to 48 hours to live.

And then we just sat...Brian's mother and I.....

We just sat.....

We didn't know what to do....

Suddenly Brian's brother appeared....

I called one of my friends and left a frantic message to go to my house to relieve my sister-in-law....she needed to be there to console my brother and mother-in-law.

I had to make phones Brian's my family....

And finally we got to see Brian.

He of course had no recollection what the surgeon had shared with I had to repeat it.

And just like me, he asked me to repeat it again.

And in true attorney fashion, he asked to speak to his surgeon (his wife couldn't have gotten this correct)....

And in true attorney fashion, he insisted they interrupt a surgery so he could speak to the surgeon....

And in true Brian fashion, he insisted that if he was going to die in 24 hours, he wanted a room with a view and a Coke.

And in true Brian fashion, he got what he wanted.....

And he made his mother and I laugh....

Because when they brought him his "Coke", he promptly announced, "This is a Pepsi.  I am dying....I want a COKE."  

And the nurses scrambled to put together their change and bought him a Coke from the machine.

Long story, I know.  But that 24 hours kept getting extended.....Brian didn't pass away for another week.  We had 5 bonus days together.

During that time, his unsuspecting fraternity brother called his room....thinking Brian was just recovering and getting ready for his trip to Houston.  He had no idea Brian was just given a death sentence.

And as the day passed, more fraternity brothers called from all across the country.  The phone never stopped ringing.

Two brothers flew to middle of the nowhere Illinois to visit him

And we reminisced and laughed after every phone call.....

And we shared memories with one another.....

And I slept each night on a cot next to his bed....

And he held my hand tightly each night.....all night.

Yes, it was the worst 24 hours of my be told that the one you love is going to die within the next few hours....

But, it was some of the most wonderful 5 days afterwards.....sharing with one another....sharing with each other how much we loved one another.....sharing all our deepest thoughts and feelings....and each minute being a "bonus."

Please, please, NOT wait until the last 24 hours to take advantage of "bonus" days.  Think of each and every day you wake up next to the one you love as a "bonus" day.  Share with them how much you care for them....respect them.....give them the best of you!

If not for you and your loved one....than do it for what Brian and I am missing each and every day....and for the intense loneliness that surrounds my every moment.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Living in Slow Motion ....Again

Today is the day.....

The day cancer infected the lives of my children.....

The day their worlds were never the same....

The day their childhood innocence was stolen from them....

The day they realized their parents were not made of superhero material.....

The day they became different from all their friends....

The day they had to start providing explanations to their father's whereabouts....

The day our lives started moving in slow motion.

I wrote about this last year - and I need to write about it again this year but from the perspective of my children. (See The Day My World Began Moving in Slow Motion)

August 6, 2004 - at about this time - 6 pm-ish.....the boys and I were playing with Rachel (just shy of her first birthday) and cheering her on as she took her first steps.

I recall the boys excitement and we couldn't wait for Brian to come home from work so we could share this milestone with him.

We waited....

and waited....

and waited.

Suddenly, the phone rang.  The boys were getting somewhat distracted as a 6 and 9 year old tend to do....but as soon as they recognized that I was on the phone with their father, they became quite interested again.

But, I'm sure they could sense something wasn't quite right......just as I sensed something wasn't quite right as soon as I heard Brian's voice.

I will never forget that feeling when I heard Brian's voice....the concern, the nervousness, the unknown.  For those of you that knew Brian, you know that he was never nervous....never scared.  He may have had the ability to worry for no reason about things but he was always in charge; always in control.    This was not the Brian I had weathered ups and downs with.  Something wasn't right.

And at that moment, the world around me slowed down.....for all of us.....

And I'm sure if my children could remember all the details at the time, they could see the change in my voice and my demeanor.

Brian was admitted to the hospital at 6 pm-ish on August 6, 2004.

And he would never step out of the hospital again.

Cancer had entered our lives - and would take his life within a short 2 week span.  A time period that was filled with unknown, despair, some laughter but mostly sadness.

And the most difficult part of it all?

Sure, it was difficult for him and I to grasp the idea that our "to death do you part" was coming much sooner than we had ever anticipated.

No, the most difficult part was looking into the eyes of our children and explaining to them what was happening.  Our older one understood immediately and ran off full of anger and grief.

Our younger son didn't understand.....didn't really grasp what we were sharing with him.

A few days prior to Brian's passing, Nolan and I were walking through the hospital and he looked up at me.  "Mom, Dad is never coming home again, is he."  What a awful statement for a 6 year old to have to think about, let alone have to speak.

Brian never had the opportunity to witness his beautiful daughter take a step....he was never able to hold her again.

Damn cancer.  

This is why I run/ride ridiculous events while juggling a full-time job and raising three children alone.  This is why I ask all of you to support my efforts for LIVESTRONG.  This is why I get up at crazy hours to squeeze in a ride or run.  To KICK CANCER'S ASS!

August is always a reminder to me of how much I hate cancer - don't we all?  Don't we all have stories of how cancer has impacted our lives?

The next two weeks are much easier each year but still go in slow motion for me at times as memories come flowing back.  Thankfully it is easier - and thankfully I am able to "celebrate" life the day after Brian's passing with Rachel's birthday.

I know many of you think I may be crazy (and yes, I think so as well quite often) but it is my goal to make sure other kids and parents don't have to have an August moment like the Simmons family did.

Thank you for your emotional support.....and your financial support to my fundraising efforts all these years!

If you'd like to help LIVESTRONG help other's survive cancer with FREE services, please consider making a donation at Barbara's Chicago Marathon Fundraising page to Benefit LIVESTRONG

Friday, August 3, 2012

Five for Five on the Fifith

Sunday is August 5th.

Just another day of summer...right? 

Not in my world.  Each of the 15 days proceeding August 5th is significant to me.

Eight years ago, August 5th was the LAST day cancer was not part of our daily world.   August 6th was the day my husband and childrens' father, Brian,  was admitted to the hospital and our cancer journey began.

August 5th was still filled with hope of a lifetime together.  I would do anything to have 5 minutes back with Brian....and my sister....and my mother....and my father.

So, in honor of this hope and the chance others can have a lifetime of memories with their  their loved ones,  hope, I am asking you to join me in donating $5 to LIVESTRONG - $5 for 5 minutes on the 5th.

I've done the cycling across Iowa and I'll do the running across Oregon at Hood to Coast and through the streets of Chicago during the Chicago Marathon.  All I ask, is that you part with $5.00 - one Starbucks Grande Latte or one IP Brew or one Chipotle Burrito.

Can we get 50 $5.00 donations on the 5th for 5 more minutes??  Use the link below. 

Thanks so much!

5/5/5 Donations to Support LIVESTRONG

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rekindling My Inner Spirit on RAGBRAI with Team LIVESTRONG

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." ~ Albert Schweitzer

I have received numerous odd looks this week when co-workers asked me how I spent my vacation.  I suspect when they saw my tan and relaxed disposition, they assumed I had spent a week lounging on a beach (which wouldn't be a stretch).  They appeared a bit shocked - as they should be - when my response was that I spent the week cycling across Iowa in 100 degree temperatures and sleeping in a tent.  Shocked that I didn't step foot in a single air-conditioned resort hotel with a swimming pool.  Shocked that there were no spa visits, gourmet dinners, relaxing afternoons poolside or sleeping in until I naturally woke up.

A common question to my explanation that I spent the week riding my bike was "WHY??"

Well, why not?

Why not spend a week camping with 75 strangers - actually 10,000 total?   

Why not spend a week surrounded by 75 caring supportive individuals?

Why not spend a week with 75 other cyclists that "get it"....that understand that cancer has taken a toll on all our lives in some way or shape.

Once again, participation in a Team LIVESTRONG event has rekindled that fire inside me.  

I was constantly taken aback by the generosity of my teammates and the hospitality of the Iowa communities that welcomed 10,000 plus cyclists into their towns, creating havoc on their traffic and the simple trip to the grocery store.

I left my home on July 20th just one person....just one member of the Team LIVESTRONG RAGBRAI group....just one cancer hater....just one runner that was attempting to take on the most challenging event of her life.

I returned home on July 28th a part of something bigger.  I returned home as part of a community.....still  one person but one with 75 new friends.....75 new supporters and cheerleaders....75 individuals that together were willing to turn this runner into a cyclist.....that took the time to slow down as they rode by me to make sure I was okay....75 others that made me feel as though I was not alone in the aftermath cancer has created in my life.  

Among those that I had the pleasure of experiencing their inner spirit.... 

  • The teammate that only knew me from our team Facebook page yet opened her home to me - a complete stranger - so I could appreciate one last night of comfort in air-conditioning and a bed.  I had no idea at the time how valuable that would be.  This wonderful teammate became my guiding light all week and took this RAGBRAI virgin (yes, it is tradition to call first-timers virgins and "mark" us with the word spelled out on our calves) under her wing, teaching me the important RAGBRAI ropes of camp life and enjoying the ride.
  • The entire LIVESTRONG staff that made sure to welcome me with support and enthusiasm regardless of the time of day - before I had my coffee at 5 am or when I was the last to roll into camp at 6 pm....this also was the case when they would come along me on the route during the day.  The minute we all arrived in Sioux Center, the feeling of being at a family reunion was evident.
  • The gentleman that recently celebrated his 75th birthday and pulled me aside after I completed my ride on day 3 asking to ride with me the next day.  At this point I was contemplating not riding anymore.  I hadn't verbalized that to anyone yet I suspect this wonderful caring man recognized this in my demeanor.  He never left my side the next day - through the sun, 110 degree temperatures and strong headwinds.  This 75 year old man made me ride behind him and blocked all the wind for me.  He made sure my water bottles had ice in them.  He made sure I ate along the way.  He kept me entertained with his fantastic stories.  He bought me my first soda in 6 years - a very delicious Mugs Root Beer and made me realize that soda is like an energy drink....only better!  Without Gene, I certainly would never have gotten over this RAGBRAI Hump Day and was able to continue the rest of the week with relative ease - at least mentally!
  • On that same day, we were joined by another teammate at a little past the halfway point when the day began to heat up....and the wind just continued blowing.  This gentleman is a true cyclist and trains on the hills in Tennessee and Kentucky.  A bit different than the terrain of flat middle of nowhere corn-country that I ride in.  He could have just chatted with us for a moment and been on his way.....been back to the camp and enjoyed a shower, a few beers and the company of our team.  But no.....although I suggested numerous times that he go ahead, he would not.  He stayed with me the remainder of the day and helped me improve my cycling.  These two men were willing to stop whenever I needed to - in case you didn't know, I HATE running, cycling etc in the heat.  Give me a 40 - 50 degree day and I am in heaven!  As we went up hills, Don could have hammered right up them but he stayed at my side and actually offered to push me up.  Much to his dismay, I did get off and walk up one....but I was going so slow I suspected I was going to fall over.  
  • The Lenox Bike Club.....a group of complete strangers that without any questions - other than whether I was a Hawkeye or Cyclone fan (I got lucky and said whichever team has LIVESTRONG colors) - provided me a ride back to camp with their team when I ran out of steam.  If they had not, I would have sat waiting for the SAG bus for hours upon hours.  As a matter of fact, I came across this bus two other days and they remembered me - even asked if I needed a ride again.  
  • The lovely lady in the second town we stopped in that approached me and my friend as we sat in her shaded yard.  We were just 2 of 10,000 that rode by her house that morning yet she approached us with an offer to use her bathroom.  Just opened her home to two complete strangers.  Then proceeded to fill our water bottles with ice and water.  
  • The amazing families across Iowa that turned on their sprinklers and hoses to cool us all of as the temperatures rose.
  • The various teammates that took the time to set-up my tent for me while I was still out pedaling across Iowa because I was so much slower than everyone else.  What a fabulous treat!
  • Numerous teammates that gave me hugs, high-fives and encouragement although I was the last one back each day.  They had more faith in my abilities to succeed that I had in myself.
  • The complete stranger  from Wisconsin that rode up alongside me around mile 20 and took a thoughtful moment to ask who Brian was (I had a "In Memory of Brian" card on my bike).  We had a wonderful time chatting and before I knew it, I had ridden 90 miles - 70 with this stranger that I know consider a friend.
  • Our team mechanic.  He humored me and my complete lack of bike knowledge - always willing to make the tiny adjustments to my bike that I should have been able to handle on my own.
The list goes on and on and on.  Numerous teammates pulled me up hills during headwinds, gave me cycling tips along the way, entertained me with funny stories.  Little did they know I was on the verge of tears at times - that I just wanted to quit.  

THIS is why I spent my summer vacation riding my bike across Iowa.  Otherwise I never would have met these incredible human life would be that more empty for not having crossed paths with these people - some for only a moment or two. 

It reminded me that in a world that we are surrounded by reality t.v., terrible  senseless shootings and bullying, in reality, people are good.  People are generous.  People are thoughtful and loving.  You just need to open yourself up and find them!

There is no question in my mind that I will participate in RAGBRAI again with Team LIVESTRONG.....just to rekindle my spirit through all these amazing souls!

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Best Bet I Ever Lost

Once again I have been absent....and I apologize.

There really hasn't been anything too exciting to write about.

Just life.  Ups and downs.....craziness of kids out of school for the summer.....changes at work....birthday anniversary....memories.....getting through each day.

Some days were easier than others.  But none of this is new.....the blog posts from the past year could apply on some of these days.

However, I just returned from an amazing inspiring adventure last week that was an incredible challenge for me....and most certainly the hardest thing I have ever done physically.

If you recall, earlier I mentioned that 2012 was the The Year of the Bike.  This runner chic was going to let wheels get her around instead of her own two feet.

A little background.  It all began with a bet.  A little bet over a few adult beverages.  This bet was with a few LIVESTRONG cycling friends.  The deal offered was if all three ran a marathon within a year, I would ride my bike at RAGBRAI - a little bike ride across the state of Iowa....471 miles to be exact.  Perhaps it was the beverages, but I recognized that marathons are hard for runners, let alone cyclists that have never run.  At this time, it was most definitely the beverages fault.  I said "Marathons are really hard.  How about you all have to run a half marathon, and then I'll do RAGBRAI?"

The deal was sealed with a toast.....and promptly forgotten by me....until we were all together again last October.  And it resurfaced....and strangely enough, while we were enjoying a few more adult beverages.  Hmmmm.....I see a theme here.

I still didn't believe they would complete this task.  Granted, one of the guys had fulfilled his end of the bargain and completed a half marathon, but I chalked that up to him trying to impress a girl....and apparently he did because they are now a very happy couple.

Still, certainly the other two would not run a half marathon.  OK boys, game on!  Again, I blame the beverages - a little liquid courage I suppose.

Fast forward to February....the LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon.  I was participating both as a runner (very slowly as I was wearing a tutu and planking each mile as part of my fundraising efforts for LIVESTRONG....see my post) and as the Team LIVESTRONG fundraising mentor.  As an experienced runner with 20 half marathons and 4 marathons under my belt, I could have easily provided these novices some bad advice - like "you should really consider drinking milk the morning of the race to prep your body." bad advice from me.

And guess what.

They both finished.   (Although I am still a little suspicious of one of the boys.  I never did see him before or during the race.....just at the end.  How do I know for sure he got that medal around his neck by crossing the finish line?  Did he offer someone a few bills for that medal?  He is a pretty stand-up guy so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt).

Uh-oh.....I was now on the hook.

This runner that only rode her bike once or twice a year - and the longest ride was one 65 mile - was in deep trouble.

And so my journey to become a cyclist began.

I have not run at all since that half marathon with the exception of the Champaign Half Marathon in April - on VERY limited training....and dressed as Wonder Woman (another fundraising moment).  To top it off, I was knocked out with a mysterious case of mono in March so no exercise but lots of sleep for an entire month.  

When April rolled around, it was no surprise to me that I was in the worst shape I had been in for years.  However, I started going to Spinning classes, rode hill workouts on the stationary bike and hit the weight room.

May rolled around and I was dusting off my bike, starting to rack up the necessary mileage.  I joined a woman's cycling group in town, the Spokeswomen, and  began doing some long rides instead of long runs on the weekends.  My alarm started going off at 4:45 am during the week in order to get in a 25 mile ride before I had to get kids off to camps and myself to work.

Before I knew it, July 20th was upon me.  I loaded up my bike, my tent, and my very stylish spandex padded bike shorts and headed west to Iowa.

The journey was just beginning.

As it turned out, this became the best bet I have ever lost.

Too much to share in one post so please stay tuned for recaps of this inspiring experience!