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The End of My Journey is Just the Beginning

  • September 27 2013

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    The End of My Journey is Just the Beginning

    Reposted with permission from the Plunge Project. Original post here.

    When I began writing for the Plunge Project in January of this year, I had no idea what to expect, what kind of writer I would become or where this journey would take me. I was a new blogger with only a little experience under my belt but I was eager to learn and learn I did. Many of you have sent lots of great comments and feedback that have allowed me to grow as a writer, an aspiring event planner, and as a friend. Over the last 8 months, I have learned not only a lot about the wedding industry and what today’s brides are looking for, but I have also learned a lot about myself and that is what has led me to realize that the time has come for me to move on to my next big adventure. So allow me to fill you in…

    In a post of mine from earlier this year, I briefly mentioned losing a very dear friend of mine to cancer in April. Her name is Julia and she was 27 years old when she lost her battle with stage 4 small cell lung cancer, a type of lung cancer that affects only 15% of lung cancer patients. At this point, you might be thinking, “What?! Lung cancer is for old people, old people who smoke!” Then I would politely tell you that you are not alone in that thought, but it could not be further from the truth, because the reality of it is, if you have lungs then you can get lung cancer.

    She was originally diagnosed with pneumonia in December of 2011 – the same month her best friend, my twin sister, got engaged – and was otherwise completely healthy, but when she began to cough up blood it was obvious that something much worse than pneumonia was at work. She returned to an urgent care facility where a chest x-ray revealed a mass in her lung. In March 2012, a specialist biopsied the mass only to discover the tumor was malignant. Further tests and scans would reveal the tumor was cancer and there were additional lesions on her liver, which meant the cancer was stage 4. So instead of helping her best friend plan the wedding of her dreams, Julia began chemotherapy and thus the fight of her life.

    I could write post after post about how I felt about the entire process but at the same time it is very difficult to put into words how you feel when something like that happens to someone whom you love and care about so much. And I could write post after post about how I felt when Julia lost her battle and took her last breath, surrounded by those that love her the most, on April 18, 2013, but that was the single hardest time of my life and I have no desire to share those memories. I probably never will because, as odd as it may sound, I hold that horrific moment very sacred to my heart. It is something that can’t be understood unless you have experienced it but it is also something that I would never wish on anyone, ever.

    The week after Julia’s funeral I needed something positive to take my mind off of how out of control I felt and I needed to find a way to give back, to do my part to prevent this horrible disease from taking someone else’s life the way it stole Julia’s. After a quick internet search, I found a Free to Breathe 5k in my area, put on by the National Lung Cancer Partnership, coming up in August. At that point, I would have never considered myself a runner by any means. In fact, I hated running after years of punishing laps when I was basketball player in high school and had definitely never run a 5k before. This was the perfect opportunity for me to step out of my comfort zone so I quickly signed up before I could talk myself out of it. I downloaded the Couch to 5k app on my phone and started training 8 weeks before the race with a goal of running the entire time. The beginning of training was rough but I kept telling myself that if Julia could fight cancer for a year then I could run for 20-30 minutes three times a week. That thought alone got me through many tough runs, and I am sure it will get me through many other tough times to come. My hard work paid off because when August came, I ran my best time ever and ran the entire race (well with the exception of two quick 30-second breaks after too quick of a start). Not only did I run that race, but there were 22 other people who joined me in San Diego and 7 other people, including my sister, who ran in Amsterdam, Paris, and London and we raised over $1200 for lung cancer awareness! I spoke at the opening rally and could barely hold it together as I shared Julia’s story (I even pronounced my own name wrong!), but when people I had never met before started coming up to me to give me hugs and words of support I knew that the message I was trying to deliver could not stop there. I needed to do more.

    So this last weekend, that is exactly what I did. I applied and was accepted to attend the National Lung Cancer Partnership’s Advocacy Summit in Dallas. The Summit was this last weekend and it has forever changed my life. I joined 74 other advocates, including 17 lung cancer survivors (only 16% of all lung cancer patients survive more than 5 years), for a weekend of learning and healing. We attended workshops on advocating and educating about lung cancer in our community, raising awareness, and fundraising. We toured some of the research labs at the University of Texas – Southwestern, one of the leading lung cancer research facilities in the country, and caught a glimpse of new studies they were doing. We met with medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and cardiothoracic surgeons and got to pick their brain. These advocates I had the pleasure of sharing a weekend with are some of the most passionate people I have ever met and I can’t wait to see them again, to share our advocacy success stories and to relive the experience I had with them – one I know I will never be able to recreate.

    So that’s what brings me to this post. The more I have become involved in lung cancer advocacy, the more my passion for all things wedding has dwindled. I will always love weddings because of the pure joy that they bring to those who are planning them but it just wouldn’t be fair to you, the readers, if I continued to blog about something that I just can’t find a passion for anymore. It is time for me to focus those efforts and give my all to this organization and to the movement to double the lung cancer survival rate by 2022. I need to do it for me, for my twin sister, Rachael who was Julia’s best friend, for Julia’s parents, and for all of those who have battled with lung cancer, are currently fighting this disease or will ever fight it. Lung Cancer kills more people every year than Prostate Cancer, Breast Cancer, and Colorectal Cancer combined, yet is receives the least amount of funding, funding that is crucial for the emergence of new treatments that could save millions of lives.

    If I learned anything over this past weekend it has been that there is solace in knowing that you are not alone in what you are feeling, so if any of your lives have been touched by lung cancer, I would love to connect with you and just hear your story. And if any of you are interested in getting more involved in Lung Cancer advocacy or would like to join a Free to Breathe event in your area, make sure to check out the National Lung Cancer Partnership. I want to thank you all for taking the time read the posts I have created. It has been completely overwhelming that the thoughts of little ol’ me have reached thousands of you and I hope that I have been able to give to you at least a fraction of what you have given me. I wish you all the best in your wedding planning endeavors and truly hope that your marriages are filled with love, laughter, and happiness. If I could give you one last piece of advice I would tell you to make sure to take a step back every now and then during your wedding day, to truly take everything in with your new husband. It was the best advice I got throughout the whole process and I am forever thankful for it. So with that, I am off… off to fight the good fight.



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