Grateful Challenge 2016

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Personal Gratitude

For the fourth consecutive year, Gini Dietrich and Spin Sucks have hosted the Grateful Challenge. While the base model is “try to write down everything you’re grateful for and get to 99 items in ten minutes” (as I did in 2014 and 2015), Gini’s 2016 version deviated a bit from that plan and so will mine (I mean, come ON, has 2016 complied with “predictable” in any way whatsoever?). While it will be utterly impossible for me to top Gini’s #10, gratitude is not a competition and I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on (and share) the places, people, values, and experiences that made the year unique.

Note, the only way this list resembles the “write down as many things as you can in 10 minutes” model in any way is the fact that they are not in any particular order. These are the fifteen items that came to mind, in the order they popped into my head.

My Impromptu Trip to NYC in June

I knew that my friend Mary Jane, with whom I did the 2015 New York City Half Marathon for Team in Training, planned to do the NYC 10K Mini in June 2016, but never planned to join. I had my sights set on doing a Disney race with her in early January 2017.

Less than a week before the 10K Mini, I learned that she would not be doing the Disney race in 2017 because she would be undergoing a stem cell transplant related to her Multiple Myeloma iin Fall 2016. Five days before the 10K race, when we were messaging each other, she said, “come do the 10K. You have a place to stay.” Long story short, I bought a plane ticket, finished up all my work for Weaving Influence, registered for the race,and …….. became an unofficial part of Mary Jane’s team at the New York Mini on June 11.

Any day in NYC is a happy day for me. So grateful that my family made the sacrifice financially for me to fly to NYC on virtually zero notice, that Mary Jane and her family welcomed me with open arms, and that I had an unexpected four days in my happy place. It truly did make me happy. So happy.

Personal Gratitude

Mary Jane, Me, Mary Miner (we all worked together at Fordham University)

Our Michigan Trip in July

My husband, Wayne, had a class reunion in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in July. He and my son drove to Michigan, with stops along the way at places like the Corvette Factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Chicago, and Upstate Michigan. I got my father-in-law settled in respite care at an assisted living facility for eight days and flew up to meet them for part of the trip.

I *love* traveling and enjoyed this opportunity to reconnect with family and friends in Michigan, to be part of the class reunion, to take in a Tigers game, and to visit Greenfield Village in Detroit.

As grateful as I am for the travel, having my father-in-law completely dealt with by someone else for eight days was also BIG. I swear as much as I loved the travel, I loved having 24 hours in the house to myself and being able to get all the carpets cleaned before I picked him up. 

Personal Gratitude

At a Tigers Game on 7/17/16.

Journey to Mars NASA Social

On August 17 and 18, I participated in a NASA Social in New Orleans and Mississippi. The social was all about the Journey to Mars. This was my third NASA Social and my first to take place at a space center besides Kennedy Space Center. I loved learning about a new (to me) space center and who doesn’t love an opportunity to go to New Orleans?

So many things about this trip were highlights. The learning about NASA was excellent (including seeing a test firing of one of the engines that will be part of powering the journey to Mars), the food was fantastic, and the opportunity to reunite with my best friend from childhood was such a treat for my heart!

Personal Gratitude

Soooo grateful to spend time with Paula!

Personal Gratitude

At the Aerojet Rocketdyne Facility with one of the engines to be used to propel the Journey to Mars.

Personal Gratitude

Jonathan had never had beignets before (!) so we had to remedy that.

I’m grateful for New Orleans, a city that has overcome so much, for the friends and food there, and for the fact that NASA and its contractors put really big components together there so I had an opportunity to go!!

Harry Was Wrong

Maybe if I was a guy writing this …. I wouldn’t write this. But I believe Harry was wrong when he told Sally men can’t be friends with women because they only have one thing on their mind. It takes respect and discipline to be friends when life could have taken two people other places, but who better to have as a friend than someone who had chosen to respect your choices and still share generously in the journey of life?

Personal Gratitude

My friend and I shared a day visiting my childhood home and elementary school in January.

I’m grateful for another year of a friendship that proves Harry wrong. 

Family, Together

It seemed like time flew between my niece Jessica’s announcement that she and Eric were engaged and the day we were scurrying around, with two men in the house trying to figure out tuxedo pieces, and Tenley and me doing hair and makeup as we prepared to step into long dresses (while getting my father-in-law into a suit). But November 12, 2016 dawned sunny and perfect, and although I can’t say “perfect” often describes the ins and outs that are part of being a family, for a few moments in that day, we were reminded that more often than not we continue to make an effort to be perfectly united.

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful for Wayne (husband), Tenley, and Wayne (son) (and Wayne (father-in-law)).

Flexible Work

Because someone has to be home with my father-in-law, I am grateful that I have flexible work which contributes to the family bottom line. It’s not just the fact that it’s flexible work, though, it’s the fact that Weaving Influence has core values (of which flexibility is one) and strives to live those values daily.

Personal Gratitude

With Whitney Heins, Becky Robinson, Jennifer Kahnweiler, Christy Kirk, and Kylah Frazier, Weaving Influence Team Members and Supporter. July 2016

I am grateful to be able to work and provide care for my father-in-law simultaneously.

Girl Scout Cookies, Friendship, and Advocacy (Not in that Order)

I have been involved with Shot at Life since 2013, and in addition to the rewarding work of advocacy on behalf of children around the world who are vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, I have made the most wonderful friends.

I also may or may not have been part of a scheme to hide girl scout cookies behind a dumpster at the US Capitol when security would not allow us to bring them in. I won’t say more, but just know there are girl scout cookies being consumed in the picture below and this picture was taken AFTER the Capitol Contraband Cookie Caper.

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful to know smart, caring women (and men) who are doing their part to make the world a better place. I am, of course, grateful for Thin Mints but I figure that goes without saying!

Stumbling Blocks on Fitness Road

Wow, was I ever optimistic way back in 2015 when I thought I could keep running, albeit more slowly, as long as I took my beta blockers before I ran. Without looking it up, I can’t tell you what day I stopped running (for now) but having to be taken back to the finish line of a recent 5K by a golf cart instead of my own two feet was a decision point for me.

Personal Gratitude

At the Stop the Violence 5K, BEFORE the race. Turns out Harper (the dog) and I each had our own struggles that day.

Still, I am grateful for the running community, that medical science (hopefully) will continue to find new answers to challenges like mine, and for the young man I run (walk) for, Gareth, who motivates me to keep moving.  

Reading

I love reading and have enjoyed some fantastic books this year. It would take an entire blog post to discuss favorites but I’ll chose two. A book I enjoyed on paper was The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. I was motivated to pick it up because I was at the Detroit Airport, needed something to read, and had just seen the Wright Brothers home and shop when I had visited Deerfield Village.

On audio, it’s so difficult to choose. I need to give a shout out to Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Of all the books I have read this year, it’s among the top five at motivating and encouraging me.

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful for reading, for its power to unlock my imagination and ignite my spirit. 

My Parents

My parents have gotten the short end of the gratitude stick from me many times over the decades, but they have responded with grace and generosity. I am beyond appreciative.

I don’t have a picture of the three of us together from this year to share, but I am grateful.

Blogging

Oh blogging, how has it been seven years already? I pulled up a post from 2009 today and flinched a little bit seeing the long unbroken paragraphs, the image I may have pulled off of Google images (that I replaced!), the lack of a meta description, and other signs that I really didn’t know what I was doing back then (not that I know now!). But blogging has given me such a fertile outlet, has connected me to so many incredible people, and has provided opportunities to earn additional income. Thanks, blogging.

I am grateful for blogging, and especially grateful to everyone who reads my blog, comments on it, and shares.

Toastmasters

It has been a fun year at Toastmasters, and I am happy to have closed it out with an opportunity to compete in the District Evaluation Contest and the District Humorous Speech Contest. Coming in 2nd in the evaluation contest was a welcome surprise. Not placing in the humorous speech contest was a humbling experience that inspired me to keep on trying. Now life needs to hand me something hilarious to discuss! (I should probably be careful what I ask for).

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about speaking, evaluating, and running meetings from Toastmasters.

Eldercare

Eldercare is not easy. I imagine when the perspective is reversed, being the elder isn’t a walk in the park either. I have no rosy “this situation is teaching me lessons I need” kind of takeaway here (although I do believe that is true). But dad is our patriarch on the Kiger side and I am glad to be able to do my part.

I am grateful that despite the many challenges, we have so far figured out a way to care for dad at home and (hopefully) provide him a place where he knows he is cared for.

Interacting With the Most Incredible People

So many people come to mind who are on my “grateful list” for this year. Many of them ended up in my life through blogging, advocacy, or both. I have to conduct phone calls wherever I can since the main tv in our house is usually on VERY LOUD TENNIS, and I will not soon forget sitting on the floor of my bedroom. a couple of sheets of paper in my hand, talking to Mark S. King for our collaboration on a CDC-related blog about encouraging people to get tested for HIV.

It’s too long of a story for this blog, but I believe it is possible that Representative Gwen Graham would go to Costco with me, as we discussed when we met about Shot at Life. I may have been in an office in Washington, D.C., but it felt very much like I was on a front porch in North Florida. She has a gift.

Personal Gratitude

Visiting Rep. Gwen Graham in Washington, DC

Be open to meeting new people and hearing their stories; you will be grateful for what you learn.

Silence

I know ….. silence? I think often of the silent retreat I did in March. It was only six hours but those six hours were probably my longest unplugged period in a while. It was a different experience, one which made me question whether or not I really want to do a multi-day silent retreat somewhere (I do…), but it was a reminder that it’s easy to give in to the world’s distractions and lose touch with the places, people, values, and experiences that really matter.

Personal Gratitude

For the highlights of 2016 I’ve mentioned here, and for the ability to gather more moments in the year to come, I am grateful. 

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Light the Night FSU 2015!

If you’ve spent any time with me online (or in person!), you know that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLSUSA) is one of my main causes.

Many of my Charity Miles have been for LLSUSA.

Swamp Forest 2015

I participated in the United NYC Half Marathon in March 2015 as part of Team in Training for LLSUSA. Whereas I originally thought my March half marathon was going to be a “one and done” effort for LLSUSA, I felt differently after completing the race.

I feel differently because I know our fundraising efforts ARE making a difference, as seen in the recent approval of Darzalex for patients with previously treated Multiple Myeloma.

I feel differently because every step I take as part of Team in Training takes me into the orbit of someone else I grow to care about, from whom I simply can’t walk away, like Justin Karpf.

I met Justin, who is the honored hero at the upcoming FSU Light the Night walk, when I went to the Tequila and Tapas fundraiser at Madison Social in October. When I arrived, I noticed a young man in an LLS shirt. We talked about many things, including his law studies, his involvement in children’s health issues (yay!), and his girlfriend in New York. It wasn’t until he turned around and I saw that his shirt said “survivor,” that I realized he wasn’t just another patron there for the tequila and tapas.

Justin agreed to share his story:

Justin is seated to my right in this picture.

My name is Justin Karpf. When I was 20 years old, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  I was about to start my senior year at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in May 2012.  I did not feel particularly ill before being diagnosed, but I felt some soreness under my left arm. During a routine check-up that month, I told my doctor about it, which quickly led to scans, a diagnosis, and biopsies.  Luckily, my doctors caught the cancer early and I was able to start treatment shortly after the diagnosis.  I was involved with several student organizations and planned to spend the summer at UCF, but I ended up taking the summer and fall semesters off for chemotherapy and radiation.

After I was diagnosed, treatment started almost immediately.  I started with 6 rounds of chemotherapy, which started the week after my 21st birthday.  During chemo, I lost my hair and a lot of my strength.  Though I responded well to the treatment, I had to stay home most of the time because of how low my white blood cell count was, which also led to dietary restrictions. After chemo, I had a month of radiation treatment.  By the time I finished radiation, some of my hair had started to come back and I was able to eat and exercise normally again.  My cancer was in remission when I finished treatment, and has been for over 2 years now.

I still need to get scans twice a year and see my oncologists, but I have been able to get my life back on track. I graduated UCF in May 2013 and am now in my second year of law school at Florida State University (FSU).  My strength and hair have returned, but my life will never be the same; there is always the risk of relapse or a secondary cancer looming over me, but I am determined to continue working towards my goals and not living in fear.  I am fortunate that I was able to overcome this disease thanks to the amazing medical professionals that oversaw my treatment, as well as the support from my family, friends, and organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).

Last year, I was a Team Captain and Honored Hero for LLS in Tallahassee and am privileged to do the same this year.  Light the Night is a great way to raise money for a great cause; the money we raise at events like Light the Night truly helps to save lives. Thank you to everybody who has walked with us before and welcome to those who are just joining us!

LLS SOLO

Ways You Can Help:

Make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society here (so Justin gets the credit!).

Join us Thursday, November 19, 2015, at Langford Green at 5:30 at FSU for the Light the Night festivities and walk.

Download the Rock My Run app on iPhone or Android, redeem the code PAULAK, and $1 will go to LLSUSA. Download it and then delete it next week if you really don’t care about the app, but I would appreciate the dollar for LLSUSA. (AND, the app is incredible; I use it almost exclusively for my fitness music needs!).

RMR Download UPDATED

Note: Justin’s story also appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.

There are many great causes out there, and I enjoy supporting lots of different efforts. This one is at the top of my list and will be for the foreseeable future, for Mary Jane, Justin, and all the others for whom leukemia and lymphoma are part of their stories…..

Run LLS Pin

The Cancer Color of October is … (2015 Version)

NOTE: This is an update of a post I originally wrote in October 2014.

The Cancer Color of October is … not always PINK.

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It is October, and pink predominates pretty much everything because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important to me because I am the daughter of a survivor and have seen countless friends, acquaintances, and fellow humans (women and men) be diagnosed with this disease. Some are (blessedly) still alive and thriving; others have passed away. As a woman, I face a 1:8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in my life. Therefore, for selfish reasons research should be supported. However not all “pink” is effective “pink,” and there are many other causes out there of which we need to be aware and for which we need to take action.

When Pink Makes Me See Red

I am wearing a lot of pink this month, and having been a multiple-year captain at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, I am in full support of many efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer and fundraise toward support and research. Here in Tallahassee, October 2015 is fully in pink bloom, with many of our city’s leaders and brightest lights leading the way. However, it is important to know that not every product robed in pink does much good and to make well-educated purchasing decisions.

When Pink Has Gray Areas

It is also important to respect the connotations all that pink carries for people currently dealing with breast cancer, either for themselves or a relative. Sarah Thebarge writes eloquently of the evolution of her feelings about pink as a color representing breast cancer here.  She also wrote a superbly useful list of 31 Ways to Help a Friend Who Has Breast Cancer (visit it here) which goes beyond wearing pink.

But Paula You Said This Post Wasn’t Just About Breast Cancer!

It’s not. I want to encourage you to add some “blue” to your October observances (I know, now it’s feeling baby shower-ish up in here, isn’t it?). Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. It has affected many men I know.

Ed Randall’s Fans for the Cure seeks to “save lives by increasing awareness of prostate cancer and the life-saving value of early detection while providing education and information about cutting-edge research to reduce risk, detect, and treat prostate cancer.”

Fans for the Cure aims to encourage all men over 40 to consult with their doctors and schedule their prostate exams and PSA blood tests today because early detection saves lives.

See Tom Foley, Tampa Bay Rays Bench Coach, discuss prostate cancer and his father’s experience here:

Fans for the Cure envisions a world where all men are aware of their risk and know how to prevent prostate cancer. (Early detection can involve a simple blood test. Read more about detection options here or visit this site to donate.)

Fans for the Cure was present at nearly 175 minor-league games this baseball season. At these games, Fans for the Cure partners with local hospitals to offer prostate cancer screening and provides information. I hope to make one of these games next year.

Got it: PINK, BLUE, and … GRAY?

I had this “pink and blue” post planned for weeks before I wrote the original post in 2014. One individual’s story presented itself to me via friends, though, and it was important to add it. Andy Nichols was the brother-in-law of a friend (as she puts it “the brother of my heart.”). Andy had an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor, which is in the same family of brain tumors as the one my friend Dustin had. When I learned that Poplar Head Baptist Church would be holding a 5K race in Blountstown on October 11, 2014, in Andy’s honor (to help with expenses not covered by insurance as well as raise awareness), and that his friends wanted help getting the word out and generating as much participation as possible, I knew in a heartbeat that I would be heading west that day.

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Tiffany, Debbie, Paula O’Neill and I had such a fun day at the fun for Andy!

Andy and his family chose the "I have hope" phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

Andy and his family chose the “I have hope” phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

NOTE: Andy passed away from complications caused by his brain cancer. He is not forgotten, even by those who did not technically know him.

So Many Causes … Where Do I Go From Here?

I wish I knew! I have only scratched the surface, with a bias toward the fact that it’s October, that my mom (pictured in this post with a pink bird of hope) is a breast cancer survivor, that Ed Randall is doing so much across the country to encourage men to get screened for prostate cancer, and that Andy and his family needed (and got) our support on October 11. My friend Mary Jane, a multiple myeloma survivor, organized a team for the NYC Half Marathon in March via Team in Training and our team ROCKED THAT RACE. As to “where do I go from here?”

cancer colors

This graphic is from www.crochetforcancer.org.

In a sea of choices, the best recommendation I can make is the same one I would make if you were drowning in a literal sea: clear your head, get your bearings, look for the surface, orient yourself toward the shore, and take action. Your action may be donating funds, running in a race, running for a cause (hello, Charity Miles and Stand Up 2 Cancer!), or simply telling someone who has cancer “I am here for you” or asking their family what you can do to help.

Whatever you choose, don’t for a minute let yourself believe that your contribution is too small or won’t matter.

My mom, Ed Randall, Andy, and Mary Jane would surely feel differently …

Multiple Myeloma: Saying Thanks and Hanging On

March 15, 2015, was a chilly day to walk 13.1 miles as part of the United Airlines NYC Half. At about 12.5 miles, Mary Jane managed to convince me to take off my red sweatshirt so my purple Team in Training singlet (and race number) would show in the finish line pictures. I had been trying for about a mile to reposition my number from the sweatshirt to my singlet in order to make the change, but my fingers were frozen and uncooperative.

She took things under control and did the pinning duties for me (being at a different angle seemed to be part of the equation of solving this conundrum) and we were able to cross in a unified line of purple!

Half Marathon Thank You

Team SOAR at the finish.

The road to this finish line began in November 2014, when I decided that what I wanted for my 50th birthday was for my family to send me to New York City in March 2015 to be part of Team SOAR. This would mean raising $2,500 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). (For more on how, where, and why, click here, here, here, and here.)

The road to March 15 was paved with efforts on several fronts:

Training

A March 15 half-marathon, which I knew I would be walking or doing at a very manageable pace, fit in very well with my training plan. I kept up my training via my team, KR Endurance, which essentially boiled down to two weekday runs per week as planned out in a build/recovery model by my coach Kristie Cranford, a longer run on weekends, cross-training and/or yoga the other three days, and a rest day. (The only bump in the road was the cardiac oddness that happened throughout but I persevered!) I enjoyed representing Team in Training in several races as I prepared, including the Swamp Forest Trail Race in January and the Run for the Cookies in February with my awesome friends Suzanne and Laura.

Half Marathon Thank You

Fundraising

There are so many causes out there deserving of our time, money, and support. I wish I could give to them all. In choosing to fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I chose a cause that is personal to  me, because it affects a close friend, as well as acquaintances and people I will never know. Refusing to choose because there are too many options is a not a choice that sits well with me. Therefore, I will pray every deserving cause receives adequate support and I will give every ounce of time, money, and support I can to this one.

I do not find it easy to fundraise. I don’t like being told “no.” Fundraising is not something I consider my strength. However, I do admit to liking the challenge and this is one of those areas in life where I will become a better, stronger person for having ventured outside of my comfort zone. Here is how my fundraising for this event came together:

The Tequila Social

On Saturday, February 7, 2015, Madison Social hosted a Tequila Social for the cause. It was such a fun time and they paid such close attention to small details that enabled every attendee to have a good time. Madison Social donated a generous portion of each ticket sold to LLS, as well as an additional donation.  I am so thankful to this local business with a big heart for its community. They deserve your patronage and enthusiasm. Thank you, Madison Social.

(I also want to thank the Tally Connection for hosting a giveaway of two tickets to The Tequila Social, and for making a donation for every comment that was made on their giveaway post.)

Half Marathon Thank You

The placemats explaining the three tequilas.

Benefit Workout at Badass Fitness

Shannon Colavecchio, owner of Badass Fitness, hosted a “couples workout” and donated the proceeds to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. A fun time was had by all (not that we necessarily would have said that mid-shockwave)!

Half Marathon Thank You

Superbowl Squares

I did a Superbowl Squares event which culminated (of course!) on Superbowl Sunday. A couple of the winners donated at least a portion of their proceeds back to me! How nice was that?

Frequent Asking

I did a lot of asking/reminding/pleading via my blog and my other social media outlets. Thank you to those of you who stuck with this “One Note Paula” throughout that time.

When I was talking with Mary Jane on the way to Central Park for the start of the half marathon the morning of March 15, we were discussing our team goal of $100,000, and the fundraising process, especially how to approach corporate donors. Since her diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma a few years ago, and her subsequent choice to be involved in Team in Training (and her rapid ascendancy to mentor/superstar which surprises no one), she has, she said, learned the following:

“I ask everyone.”

Pretty good advice, I’d say.

Charity Miles

I was already a Charity Miles user prior to committing to this event, but between my November decision to do the United Airlines NYC Half and the event itself, I did almost all of my miles for LLS. Twenty-five cents from every walked/run mile went to LLS. It didn’t go to my Team SOAR fund specifically, but it went to the greater goal of research, support, and advocacy. I also hope it raised awareness every time I posted my Charity Miles for LLS to social media.

Half Marathon Thank You

Special Thank-Yous

An analysis of the donations made to LLS as part of my fundraising lists 54 entries. Fifty-four individuals/businesses who gave in order to help me achieve my goal. I appreciate Kellie, my first donor, whose sister had been diagnosed with lymphoma. I thank Jon, whose donation came in while I was out on a training run, after which I came home to an email informing me I had reached my goal. And I thank EVERYONE IN BETWEEN! All of you have a special place in my heart!

Half Marathon Thank You

My fellow Idiots Running Club (IRC) members deserve a shout-out. The number of “Idiots” among the 54 donors is disproportionately high and that’s fine with me!

Speaking of Idiots (as in IRC), Amie of JunieBalloonie went to great lengths to make my effort bloom! Her custom-designed flowers are beautiful, and her creations for Team SOAR, LLS, and Team in Training, from which a portion of proceeds goes back to the cause, were no exception! (To inquire about purchasing a TNT or LLS flower, click here.)

Half Marathon Thank You

I also appreciate Greg Angel and Shannon Colavecchio, who gave me some excellent late-in-the game PR advice when I was making a final push to get the word out about The Tequila Social.

WTXL also helped out tremendously by having me on their noon show the day before The Tequila Social!

Half Marathon Thank You

Max Tsaparis, Me, Kellie Bartoli

Being a Florida-based runner on a Long Island-based team, I had the opportunity to work with two chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Thank you to the Long Island Chapter and the Northern and Central Florida Chapter for your help!

I have been impressed all along with the coaching and mentoring received from Team in Training. In addition to the pre-race communication (emails and encouragement), numerous coaches checked in with Mary Jane and me throughout the race. They gave specific advice about technique, helped us find the best restroom (yay!), and kept us talking as the miles clicked by.

My family also deserves a “thank you.” Each of them sacrificed in different ways, including my husband and son who did the duties of eldercare for my father-in-law with one-third of the team missing, and my daughter who loves going to New York with me but couldn’t make this trip.

Remembering The Reason Why

In the midst of all the running, walking, fundraising, Facebooking, Tweeting, Google+ing, Instagramming, and blogging, I never want to lose sight of the actual individuals behind the efforts. So many people told me their personal stories over the course of this few months. I thank you all for informing me and helping me understand the impact of blood cancers on your lives.

Half Marathon Thank You

Lynne is a survivor who came to The Tequila Social and quickly became a friend.

And of course Mary Jane, who was one of the first people to befriend me when I started working at Fordham University in 1989 and has remained such a treasured friend.

Half Marathon Thank You

What is Next?

When I started this process, I viewed it as a “one and done.” I saw it as an endeavor that would allow me to support Mary Jane, combine an athletic cause with an altruistic one (as I love to do), and go to New York City (which I really, really, REALLY love to do!).

I have come to internalize in a way I did not prior to this event, though, that blood cancers are not a “one and done” for the people living with them, or for their families and  friends.There are people out there “hanging on for a cure,” like Mary Jane…

Half Marathon Thank You

….and I intend to “hang on” with them.

What This Means Exactly

While I have not decided exactly what this means, I know:

1) Team SOAR set a goal for itself of raising $100,000. We accomplished an awesome $64,643.03 and were the second-place fundraisers of the NYC Half Marathon LLS Teams. The team fundraising page will be open for a few more weeks. Feel free to get us closer to $100K!

2) I will be doing the Light the Night Walk here in Tallahassee on November 12, 2015. In the interest of not diluting Team SOAR’s work, I will hold off on posting my fundraising link (but never fear — it will come!!!).

3) I will target a “big” event in 2016 for Team in Training/LLS. I don’t know if I will be fortunate enough to go to New York again, but I will find a way to “hang on” along with Mary Jane and others.

The intent of all these words is to say, in as sincere and heart-felt a way as possible:

THANK YOU

Half Marathon Thank You

Who’s Running for Who?

I applied to be a runner for I Run for Michael (IR4) back in the early summer of 2013. With IR4, runners are paired with people who have difficulty running due to physical challenges. By July I was matched with Gareth, a young man in Pennsylvania. The reason Gareth’s family had applied for a runner is because he has a mitochondrial disorder which makes it difficult for him to expend energy in a way that is equivalent to other boys his age.

Once you are matched, it doesn’t take long before you start dreaming of meeting your match. You share so much, on the private I Run for Michael page, in messages, cards, letters, and other types of communication. But nothing is the same as looking someone you have come to care about in the eyes.

When I started making plans to do the 2015 New York City Marathon on March 15, 2015, as part of Team in Training/Team SOAR, I started googling around for 5Ks in the area where Gareth lives, since it was within driving distance of NYC. Lo and behold, there was a 5K in his town on the Saturday before the Sunday half marathon! The event was the Warm Hearts 5K benefiting the Sam Vlasics Foundation for Heart Defect Awareness

On Friday, March 13, 2015 (yes, Friday the 13th!), I flew to Newark, and took one of the trip’s many buses into NYC. I dropped my luggage at a hotel room of a helpful friend, visited the race expo to pick up my number for Sunday’s half marathon, returned to the hotel room to consolidate my stuff into a small bag for the 5K with Gareth, and headed out to a bus for his town.

I should note that all throughout this traveling, and for days leading up to it, and until the moment my head hit the pillow that evening, I prayed that the 100% chance of rain for Saturday would be wrong (it wasn’t).

Saturday morning, Gareth, his mom Kim and his dad Nick picked me up and we headed to the race venue! Although I have done the race morning/packet pickup drill countless times, it was exciting to share it with Gareth. He wanted to take a “light jog” around the building and I was all to happy to oblige (because moving = warmth and it was quite chilly!!).

We snapped a few pictures before the race (unbelievably throughout the whole day we never managed to get a picture with Gareth’s parents in it — which is a disappointment but I suppose that gives us an excuse to get together again in the future!).

We did a bit of strategizing. Because Gareth’s mitochondrial disorder (MCAD) makes it difficult to use energy for an extended period of time, we decided he would run the first half mile with me, then wait for me to do the loop around an industrial park that followed the first half mile. We would meet up to run in together. Poor Gareth (and his dad, Nick) had the worst part of the deal … standing around in the cold rain FREEZING while I ran (and, sigh, walked some as I was dealing with the heart rate issues that have been cropping up lately).

Finally I made it around to the spot where Gareth was waiting for me. We had a little under a half mile to go. Having seen several pictures and videos of other IR4 children and runners sharing races together, I have to admit I had in my mind’s eye a picture perfect scene of Gareth and me crossing the finish line together, hands raised victoriously (NOTE: the picture perfect scene fantasy did NOT include freezing rain!).

Gareth and I started toward the finish line. He had lots of pent up spirit, having frozen to the bone while waiting for me. As we approached the finish line, my HR zoomed up (the preliminary diagnosis is Atrial Fibrillation but that is still getting resolved) and I had to stop and walk at what was supposed to be the big big moment!!! Given the choice of passing out (not picture perfect) and staying upright but walking, I chose to walk. It was awesome watching Gareth sprint through the finish line. He waited for me, came back to me, and we did cross the finish line together (chivalrous kid, this one!).

Gareth’s family took me out to breakfast at a local diner after the race. We were all happy to be out of the wet/cold weather and to share a meal together. (And yes, this southerner did have to ask what pork roll is!). As we finished up our breakfast, I checked the bus schedule and we came to the conclusion that we should try to get me to the 1:15 bus (which as it turns out is a Sunday bus (read schedules much, Paula?)). Good thing we arrived at the depot in time for me to catch the 12:45 at the last minute (hence the hasty goodbyes and lack of pictures with Gareth’s parents!). I was able to make it back to the city in time for a lovely warm shower and to get ready for a team dinner prior to my NYC Half Sunday morning.

TAKEAWAYS:

CHD

I loved the fact that the 5K I happened on to was a benefit for a Congenital Heart Defect cause. My friend Karen here in Tallahassee has taught me a lot about CHD (and she sent an awesome goodie bag from Broken Hearts of Florida for me to give Dana, Sam’s mom and head of the Sam Vlasics Foundation). Since our family has a history of Long QT Syndrome, we feel an affinity for all causes heart related. I liked helping a cause close to my heart (yes, I had to say it that way!).

It Takes a Village

I started emailing Dana quite some time ago when it appeared I may be able to do the 5K. I explained the situation with IR4, and the fact that we would possibly need to make some accommodations due to Gareth’s MCAD. Long story short: she said “whatever you need, we’ll make it work.” And she did. I am so grateful.

In addition, I am a person who tends to do things by myself first and ask for help second. I made a plan to stay at a hotel Friday night (because frankly, as wonderful as IR4 meetings seem to almost always be, that’s a lot of pressure on two sets of people who don’t know each other yet), and I planned to take a cab from the bus depot to the hotel. It wasn’t a long distance but not really walkable at night. Yelp reviews such as this one left me feeling a little leery. When Kim offered to pick me up at the bus depot, I agreed. We had such a nice visit, and a quick sandwich (no, I hadn’t thought ahead to plan dinner (ongoing joke of the weekend — you’re a veteran traveler??)). It was really nice to visit briefly prior to race morning and get in our first “getting to know you” moments without the race adrenaline playing a part. I know Gareth and family had to wait around for the bus (which was later than planned), leave early on Saturday morning to pick me up, and make other accommodations to make my visit so pleasant. They were awesome.

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You Gotta Have Heart

I was SO disappointed to have an AFib (if that’s what it is!) attack right before the “big finish.” At the times prior to meeting back up with Gareth that I had to talk to keep my HR down, and the times I had to stop and walk right before the “big finish,” all of the negative self talk I have struggled with as I have gotten slower and slower was swirling through my head. BUT of all the people around whom to accept the fact that I had to make accommodations for my health, this was the place to do it. That is Gareth’s life … making adjustments moment to moment to balance enjoyment and the thrill of using energy with the fact that the physical challenges necessitate doing things that don’t necessarily look “active” to unknowing onlookers. (And honestly…the scene of him running through the finish line by himself was priceless to me!).

I Get It A Little Better Now

You can read about mitochondrial disorder. You can tweet about it, try to understand, listen to people’s explanations. I still am no expert, but what I did “get” by being in Gareth’s presence is that like any boy he likes to go places fast. Even a trip to get a napkin involved a sprint or skip. When he and I were starting the race, I explained that I am running slower than usual due to trying to figure out this heart thing and appealed to him to pace me. But of course he wanted to run. Who wouldn’t? The challenge is the pain he may face later if he doesn’t parcel out the way in which his energy is used.

Love Love Love

I am struck, in ways I find difficult to express, with  how much these two parents love their child. Not that they wouldn’t love their child but seeing that love in action, on a day called “warm hearts,” warmed mine. I am sure they think they are just doing what any parent would do, but they do it well and clearly this kid is their heart.

Why is Paula Wearing a Skunk Hat?

This day coincided with the Idiots Running Club Skunk Run. That called for a skunk hat (and skunk shirt, of course). I was a little worried about that until I “got” Gareth’s sense of humor. It all worked out!

Lastly, more pictures:

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Race start (Gareth in blue jacket/shorts, me in pink)

 

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Gareth's Finish

Gareth’s Finish

 

Finishing together!

Finishing together!

Note: The I Run for Michael organization has many more runners waiting for children to run for! For more information, visit the site by clicking this link. (Or ask me! I am happy to answer questions!).

Fred’s Drive-By Shooting

When Mama Kat proposed the following writing prompt a few weeks ago:

Write a 26-line poem using all the letters of the alphabet, where the first line starts with the letter “A,” the second “B,” the third “C,” etc., culminating with the final line starting with “Z.”

I knew I had to give it a go! We are at the starting line of my effort — see you at the finish!

Flash 2015 12K Race Shirt

Flash 2015 Race Shirt

At the 7.2 mile mark of my 7.46 mile race yesterday, I was sad that my heart was

Beating SO fast that I had to stop to

Collect data via my patient assistant, after which I

Decided to walk the last portion of the race

Except the

Finish line.

Grouped around the finish line were the volunteers and

Huddled clumps of finishers and supporters braving the cold to see the last runners

Ignite their muscles for their last victorious sprints.

Just after putting the patient assistant away, my mind

Kept grappling with the fact that I had not taken

Lots of pictures before the race like I usually do; no flat

Mama for my Moms Run This Town Facebook Page or Instagram,

Nothing. So many missed

Opportunities to share my excitement with friends and raise awareness for the

People for whom I am running the NYC Half Marathon on a date that is

Quickly approaching! Our

Running

Stories, though, are much deeper than pictures can tell. Even so, imagine how

Tickled and1585 Paula Kiger

Utterly surprised I was when race photographer Fred Deckert pulled up in his

Vehicle as he was leaving and did a “drive-by” shooting

Which resulted in a picture from day

XXI in February 2015 that has a bit of a “drive by blur” effect

Yet allows me to share my

Zeal for making every finish line count!

Finish Line Count

The Cancer Color of October Is …

The Cancer Color of October is … not always PINK.

SONY DSC

It is October, and pink predominates pretty much everything because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important to me because I am the daughter of a survivor and have seen countless friends, acquaintances, and fellow humans (women and men) be diagnosed with this disease. Some are (blessedly) still alive and thriving; others have passed away. As a woman, I face a 1:8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in my life. Therefore, for selfish reasons research should be supported. However not all “pink” is effective “pink,” and there are many other causes out there of which we need to be aware and for which we need to take action.

When Pink Makes Me See Red

I am wearing a lot of pink this month, and having been a multiple-year captain at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, I am in full support of many efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer and fundraise toward support and research. Here in Tallahassee, October 2014 is fully in pink bloom, with many of our city’s leaders and brightest lights leading the way. However, it is important to know that not every product robed in pink does much good and to make well-educated purchasing decisions.

When Pink Has Gray Areas

It is also important to respect the connotations all that pink carries for people currently dealing with breast cancer, either for themselves or a relative. Sarah Thebarge writes eloquently of the evolution of her feelings about pink as a color representing breast cancer here.  She also wrote a superbly useful list of 31 Ways to Help a Friend Who Has Breast Cancer (visit it here) which goes beyond wearing pink.

But Paula You Said This Post Wasn’t Just About Breast Cancer!

It’s not. I want to encourage you to add some “blue” to your October observances (I know, now it’s feeling baby shower-ish up in here, isn’t it?). My friend and former coach, Jeff Kline, has stage 4 prostate cancer.

jeff running

Jeff Kline of PRS Fit

Jeff has devoted October to running across the United States with a goal of motivating men to get screened (his point is that if he had done a simple screening a few years ago, his cancer would have been caught at a time when treatment would have been simpler and the prognosis would have been much more hopeful). One of Jeff’s initial blogs about his diagnosis and decision to run cross country is here. Jeff and a team of supporters are running the Marine Corps Marathon on October 26, 2014, to raise funds for ZERO (an organization dedicated to ending prostate cancer).

M2EPC

In support, I will be participating in a virtual half marathon on Saturday, October 25, 2014. It occurred to me one day that the drive from my house to my favorite traffic light, The Optimism Light, is roughly half of a half marathon, so my route will either begin or end at the O.L. to symbolize optimism that men will commit to getting themselves screened so they can be around for their families and friends for a long, long time. (Early detection can involve a simple blood test. Read more about detection options here or visit this site to donate.)

Got it: PINK, BLUE, and … GRAY?

I have had this “pink and blue” post planned for weeks. One individual’s story presented itself to me via friends, though, and it is important (and time sensitive) to add it here. Andy Nichols is the brother-in-law of a friend (as she puts it “the brother of my heart.”). Andy has an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor, which is in the same family of brain tumors as the one my friend Dustin had. When I learned that Poplar Head Baptist Church is holding a 5K race in Blountstown on October 11 in Andy’s honor (to help with expenses not covered by insurance as well as raise awareness), and that his friends wanted help getting the word out and generating as much participation as possible, I knew in a heartbeat that I would be heading west that day. If you are here in North Florida, please consider coming over to Blountstown and participating in the race. You can register via this link.

Andy and his family chose the "I have hope" phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

Andy and his family chose the “I have hope” phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

If you are not able to participate in the 5K or mile Fun Run, but would like to show your support by purchasing a t-shirt, sponsoring the event, or making a donation, you can contact Tiffany Nichols at run4andy@gmail.com or Clint White at 850-643-8584.

So Many Causes … Where Do I Go From Here?

I wish I knew! I have only scratched the surface, with a bias toward the fact that it’s October, that my mom (pictured in this post with a pink bird of hope) is a breast cancer survivor, that Jeff is running across the country to encourage men to get screened for prostate cancer, and that Andy and his family need our support on October 11. My friend Mary Jane, a multiple myeloma survivor, is organizing a team for the NYC Half Marathon in March via Team in Training so you’ll be hearing about that, for sure. As to “where do I go from here?”

cancer colors

This graphic is from www.crochetforcancer.org.

In a sea of choices, the best recommendation I can make is the same one I would make if you were drowning in a literal sea: clear your head, get your bearings, look for the surface, orient yourself toward the shore, and take action. Your action may be donating funds, running in a race, running for a cause (hello, Charity Miles and Stand Up 2 Cancer!), or simply telling someone who has cancer “I am here for you” or asking their family what you can do to help.

Whatever you choose, don’t for a minute let yourself believe that your contribution is too small or won’t matter.

My mom, Jeff, and Andy would surely feel differently …