Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012: Year in Review

I just realized its been over a year since I last posted here and what an eventful year it has been.  First of all, check out how long my hair is now!!

Me and Katie with Scar Project photographer David Jay
At the start of 2012, I declared that 2012 would be my best year yet and it has (mostly) lived up to that so far with a few rather large exceptions.  Let me review some of the highlights:

I started a new job working at a DC cancer support non-profit, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.  I love working here.  The environment is so healthy and relaxing -- my stress level has been reduced greatly and I feel healthier.

I also participated in a program called Cancer to 5k in the spring and successfully trained to run my first 5k in early June.  I ran the Komen Race for the Cure 5k (ran the whole thing, no walking) on a Saturday and then turned around to run a second 5k (the CT5K goal race) on Sunday.  I even beat my time from Saturday!  I began training in August to run a 10k (a rather daunting goal, but we'll see how it goes).  My goal race is on November 11 in DC, so I'll report back on what happens.  I'm not going for speed, I just want to complete the race.

Me (far left) running in Cancer to 5K goal race, June 2012
I traveled to New Orleans (in February) for the Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer.  What a great experience.  Not only did I get to experience an fascinating city (once I left Bourbon St) and amazing food, but I also got to meet some wonderful young women who encouraged and inspired me with their stories.

In June I got to travel to New Hampshire to attend the wedding of two of my favorite people, Katie and Kent and got to experience just how beautiful and serene NH is.  Ben and I had an amazing time with friends and can't wait to find an excuse to go back.

This weekend, I will head to Nashville to participate in the Women Rock for the Cure retreat.  Its a weekend of wellness and bonding for young women breast cancer survivors and I get to attend with another one of my favorite survivors, Tara.

On a less than happy note, there were a few "setbacks" to my amazing year.  There have been a few of my fellow young survivor friends that have had reoccurrence and are now dealing with treatment for a second time.  While I can only begin to imagine what they are feeling and going through, its definitely unsettling when you face the fact that even though you gave your all to battle this disease, there is always the possibility that you'll have to do it again.  The thought is always in the back of your head, but once you have close friends facing it, the fears and possibility becomes much more real.

The most notable "setback" was my father's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in early July.  It came out of nowhere and everything happened so quickly.  We watched his strength and health deteriorate (with the help of chemo) over a 4 week period and he passed away on August 2, 2012.  I felt like I was facing his death with mixed emotions.  On one hand I was obviously saddened and devastated by the fact that I would no longer have my father in my life, but on the other hand, I was so relieved to know that he wouldn't be suffering in pain any longer.  Those last 4 weeks were not the most comfortable ones for him and I hated to see him so helpless - a feeling which I knew he hated to experience.  And while the whole experience was not one I enjoyed, I did feel like I was stronger and better able to handle the hardships and grief because of what I had gone through with my breast cancer.  I had already been severely tested and I knew that I was strong, so I just had to keep my wits about me and rely on Ben, my friends and my family when I needed strength and support.

Me (age 7?) and my father
Luckily, thats not where the story ends and shortly after my father passed away I was fortunate enough to receive some very good news.  A few days after the funeral, a friend forwarded an email to me regarding a contest.  The contest, which was sponsored by Colorado photographer Cheryl Ungar, was directed toward people who had been impacted by breast cancer and was for a free wedding.   The entry form was simple, I just had to tell the story of Ben and I, i.e. write a couple of paragraphs about my diagnosis, his strength and support through not only that, but my father's death, and how we met.  Easy.     The wedding was to be held in Palisade, CO in a wine country vineyard in May 2013.  I'd never been to Colorado, but I did like wine, so I figured, "why not?"  Fueled by my need for something to look forward to I wrote our story and hit the submit button, then put it in the back of my mind.  Since I figured it was a long shot (this was a CO based organization after all and we are all the way in VA) I didn't tell anyone that I had entered (except for Ben obviously and the friend who sent me contest email).  About a week later I received a call from the woman who won a wedding through the contest two years ago.  She wanted to verify that I understood that the wedding was in CO and that we would have to travel there and I'm sure she wanted to gauge how serious I was about my entry.  The call went well and I hung up feeling a little optimistic, but not wanting to get my hopes up.  (Though I do have to admit, from the moment I entered I had a feeling in my bones that we would win).  (-;

Maybe a week later, they contacted me again and said they wanted to interview Ben and I.  According to their website, they were going to interview all of the finalists before making a final decision, so I knew not to celebrate yet.  But again, I thought we had a really good shot at winner.  I'm confident Ben didn't think we had a chance.  About a week after that, I received a call from Cheryl while driving home with Ben.  I put it on speakerphone and she announced that we had been selected as the 2013 recipients of The Wedding Pink.  Then came the processing.  Ben and I had just won a huge $35,000 wedding.  Sure, we had been talking about getting married, but no concrete plans had been set and we weren't officially engaged.  We both had to take a little time to get over the shock of winning and get used to the idea that not only were we going to get married, but that we also already had a date set (just 9 months away) and most of the details were set.  After about a week of digesting, we settled into yet another "new normal" and we began to announce the good news.  Everyone was completely shocked (as were we) but we've received nothing but love and support from all of our family and friends.  I guess once you are with someone for 7 years and you go through all the things we've been through, no one is going to try and talk to you out of getting married.  

We were officially announced as the winners on September 4 and you can read my entry here:  http://www.cherylungargives.com/meet-erin-ben/

Once we found out that we had won, I immediately went into planning mode.  Of course.  I've renewed my love of pinterest and I'm sure all of my followers are sick of me posting wedding and dress ideas, but get used to it!  We've started preliminary planning with Cheryl and our wedding planner, Chelsea Lorean of Chelsea Allie Wedding Planning and Design.  We also had a quick photo shoot with an amazing DC based photographer, Cameron Davidson so that they could get photos for the website.

From The Wedding Pink announcement photo shoot by Cameron Davidson
We are flying out to Colorado in early October to start planning in person and to meet all of our amazing vendors who are donating their services.  I'll get to start dress shopping soon and begin putting together the most amazing party Colorado (or DC) has ever seen!  ;)  I'll share more on our adventures of planning for The Wedding Pink over the next few months.

And while I'm not one who would usually think this, I do feel like my father might have had a hand in me winning this contest.  He loved the mountains (CO) and he loved me and wanted the best of everything for me.  And while I get emotional at the thought of him not being there to walk me down the aisle and dance with me, I'm so excited to be a part of this wedding because I feel like he would have loved everything about it.

Bottom line: I can't wait for the rest of 2012!  We are going on a cruise at the end of November (yay!) and I'm turning the big 3-0 (yikes!!!!) at the end of December.  And now I know that 2013 (the year-long celebration of my 30th year of life) will be amazing as well.

Love you all!