#SoThisOneTime when besties became cancer buddies

So this one time, a girl from Washington moved to my high-school. She wore really ugly tennis shoes with jeans and a baggy grey West Virginia sweatshirt.  She was a little bit shy, and a little bit not. But for some reason, I was drawn to her.

‘You don’t need to know how to play soccer. I’ll teach you. You don’t need to know how to cheer. I’ll teach you. You DO need to ditch that sweatshirt though.’ And just like that. I found my new best friend.

‘Sara from Washington,’ we called her.

We’d sit next to each other on long bus rides to Italy to cheer and play soccer…sharing headphones and dancing around in our seats to Yellowcard on repeat for 13 hours straight.

We’d come home from those long haul trips and sleep. Sleep like only a teenager can with the gift of Deutsche rolladens. One time we slept for 20 hours. I kid you not.

We’d watch Napoleon Dynamite and throw mattresses out the window of the second story just for giggles [surely there was a practical reason in there too? I struggle to remember the ‘why’…but those resulting deep belly laughs I can still feel like it was yesterday].  We’d star gaze on the trampoline, talking about boys, and have sleepovers on school nights… Always in sync.

Eventually, Sara from Washington went back to Washington. And I to Florida. We straddled the country for years. But no matter how far we drifted, I was still…always…drawn to her.

We haven’t really been in the same chapter of life, or the same pocket of the world for more than a decade. I mean, she got married and has two beautiful baby girls and is in the Air Force and has her Masters Degree and is just super woman. And I try to work and workout and travel sometimes. So yeah…not always in perfect sync, but deeply connected, nonetheless.

So, imagine for a moment…what it felt like when Sara from Washington calls me muttering those same sick words that I’d uttered to her 10 years prior…The exact same diagnosis. Hodgkins Lymphoma. The exact same ABVD poison regimen. The exact same ‘what in the actual f*#k.’

48 hours after she was diagnosed I stepped off a plane in South Bend to spend the weekend with her. Not because I could heal her. Not because I could make her understand that it would be okay. Not because it had even sunk in yet. But because, as always, I was drawn to her.

And devastatingly, reluctantly…I went into my old hyper-drive… ‘You don’t need to know how to do chemo. I’ll teach you. You don’t need to know how to laugh at yourself when you’re bald. I’ll teach you. You DO need to lean on your people though.’

And tonight, I’m feeling that same tug on my heart. Because tomorrow, I know exactly how she’ll feel. After six months of hell, Sara will feel the very words I wrote 10 years ago:

“It’s bigger than graduation, and turning 21, and winning the lottery, and finishing a marathon that you’ve been sprinting for over 6 months, and being born again…”

Tomorrow, at the age of 30, Sara is born again…into a world, post-cancer, that she’ll see through a slightly different lens. A lens that I prayed she’d never know, but one I’m certain that we’ll always, always feel in sync through.

Happy graduation day, Sara from Washington.

Welcome to the world where bad hair days are better than no hair-days, belly laughs feel twice as good and we know that ugly, baggy grey West Virginia sweatshirts literally.don’t.matter.one.bit.

Happy, happy day, best friend. My survivor sista.

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10 years a survivor, says.

Ten years ago today.

“You have cancer,” she said, on this day ten years ago.

And so, with a  decade under my belt, here’s what I would say to my scared, naïve, sick little 18-year-old-self:

  • Your hair will grow back. It will take way longer than you want it to, and you will look ridiculous in the meantime. But it will grow back. And your new favorite cliché will be ‘a bad hair day is better than a no-hair-day.’
  • You’ll get a puppy. The best puppy ever. And you’ll name her Kimo. #CauseObviously. And she’ll be around for two more rounds of Temme cancer. But everyone will be ok. Cause that puppy is good luck.
  • This will not be the hardest season of your life. Take this one in stride. It will suck. You’ll be really sick. You’ll break up with your high school sweetheart in the midst of it. You’ll get fat from the medicine and ditching your USF cheerleading workout regime. But it will not kill you. Seasons to come, will feel so much more lethal. But you’ll weather those too. And people will squish your cheeks over how ‘strong you are.’
  • You will get sick of people telling you that you’re strong. Cause you’ll get sick of BEING strong. But just remember, that at your core, that’s what you are. You are made of strong stuff.
  • Your veins will never come back. You’ll always hate hospitals and certain smells will still make you gag. But you’ll learn what it means to be thankful for healthy blood work.
  • This cancer thing…it’ll give you an extra dose of ‘love’ and ‘miss.’ You’ll love your family and friends so hard. And you’ll have forever FOMO of them having fun or celebrating or struggling without you. So you’ll fly to them. Over and over and over, from every nook and cranny of the world. You’ll fly to them to smile or cry. Sometimes both. Because that’s what they’re doing for you right now. You’ll spend your life trying to give that back.
  • Take the miralax when your oncologist suggests it. Ain’t no shame in softening the pain of chemo. Being embarrassed or shameful of who you are and what you’re going through is the devil’s play. Let it go.
  • You’ll grow in your faith. You might pray for healing now. People will certainly do that for you all over the world while you’re sick. But through that, and through the subsequent seasons, you’ll find your spirit and you’ll develop your personal testimony.
  • Speaking of love, you’ll fall. Some will catch you and some will drop you. But you will feel real love. And it’ll make all the difference.
  • You’ll travel the world. You’ll take this suck-fest, and the ones to come, and you’ll make globetrotting lemonade. You’ll meet your people and live a bucket list for the ages. You’ll swim with elephants in Chiang Mai, dance on Lowenbrau fest tables in Munich and avoid snake charmers in Marrakech. You’ll bungee jump in Queenstown, paraglide in Algodonales and take a cooking class in Hoi An. You’ll go to the Kentucky Derby, the opening day of college ball in Sydney and bull fighting in Lisboa. You’ll do all of that and a bunch in between., with an insatiable thirst for adventure and memory-making, because of right now.

So while you hate the now. Know that time will pass. And before you can blink, ten years will go by. And as that time passes, the fact that ‘you have cancer’ won’t even be the most interesting thing about you anymore. You’ll grow into a nuanced, experienced, healthy woman. And you’ll thank God for giving you some more time to become.

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Letting go.

Dear world,

I shouldn’t care. I should be over it. I’m better off. I traveled the world for a year. I’m a Director of Marketing before the age of 30. His loss. At least he did it when he did it…before we married…before we bought a house…before we had kids. I shouldn’t waste another second thinking about him or the life we had, or the life we planned. God has better plans for me. I know all of this. Of course I do.

But when a man tells you he can’t marry you because he no longer believes in marriage [[AFTER he voluntarily asks for your hand in marriage]] and then proceeds to, yet again, propose marriage…to someone else…well, that just stirs up a few feelings that contradict all that I knew. All that I thought I knew. Add to that, that I’m pretty certain he used the same ring. My ring. The ring that I left on his nighstand the night he told me to put marriage to bed. He gave that ring to someone else….[[WHY do men think that’s decent?! It’s not, guys. Take note. It’s tasteless to both your former and your future]].

So now, I finally have a reason to be mad.

I always wished for something to be mad about, actually…I know that sounds a little bit weird and a lotta crazy. But I thought it’d be easier to have that peg to stand on rather than the arbitrary confusion I felt for so long. I wanted him to have cheated on me. Or realized he was gay. Or have told me I was the worst human ever. Those things would have given me a rational pathway to follow. Instead, I got ‘I’m sorry. I love you. I just don’t believe in marriage anymore.’ I believed him. Maybe he was telling the truth at the time, fair. Regardless…Boom. There’s the lie I longed for. There’s the peg. A peg that hits you like a ton of bricks.

And do I feel better? Umm, not really. Having to rewrite history in my mind is a stupid, worthless task. Trying to re-package a box I thought I burned with some new diamond-covered wrapping paper is psychotic. Being angry is a part of the process, I know. Respecting the grieving process is hard but right…

And in my fit of hurt and anger and betrayal last week, I thought ‘I know. I’ll do what I do best. I’ll write him a letter. I’ll tell him how I feel. Air my hurt. Get it out of my body and off my chest. To let it go.’ I’ve done it before…to another ex…and to a woman who messed everything up. And it was all the kinds of therapeutic to write out unadulterated feelings to adulterers. So I thought I’d do that again. And then I thought, ‘nah, don’t ruffle feathers—don’t make him feel crappy over his decisions. He might be happy. Let him be happy.’ But I still deserve to get this off my chest. So instead, I’m writing this letter to the world. Without naming names. Without expectation or fear. This is my therapy. So I’m letting myself do it.

So. I’ve written my letter. I gave myself permission to be angry and then to be brutally honest. And now that it’s off my chest, I’m letting myself really, truly, permanently let it go. Let him go. Let all of it go.

I’ve stumbled through all of the emotions of the roller coaster now. It seems that I’ve come full circle on the horrible and confusing ride. And now, it’s time to get off the ride. It’s actually time to leave the theme park all together and go sit by the water instead. Back to me. Back to balance.

Letting.go.

For my faith and hope in what’s to come.

For my family and friends.

For me.

Forever.

Love,

A girl who is still growing. And who is forever thankful for the grace.

 

 

A cup of coffee one year later…

So it’s a Sunday morning and I’m sipping iced coffee and banana protein pancakes, listening to EastLake music. Seems like a pretty normal Sunday morning in the book of Anne. Except it’s not. Because I’m in a stranger’s home [I rented it, for the record, not just squatting]. In the middle of Oakland, California [say, WHAT?!]. Because I’m about to go have family SuperBowl party with my Aussies. But most of all, because it’s my trip-a-versary.

One year ago today, I got off an airplane in Nadi, Fiji. A little bit nervous, anxious and excited. A lotta bit exhausted. I was hopeful. That this trip would do it for me. That the time away would heal my fractured heart and give life back to my weary limbs. One year ago today, I needed to be invigorated like nobody’s business.

And while I can’t claim even HALF of this was my doing [for there are a million people to this puzzle], but I can confidently look back on this year of growth n grace and know that I invigorated…

I’ve spent time in 21 countries and been on 36 major flights this year and covered 90 major cities and towns…not including multi leg trips or the hundreds of additional sweet baby neighborhoods I explored along the way.

I felt spiritually connected to myself and my experiences and my God in the most surprising of places–in a mosque in Casa Blanca, Morocco and on a vineyard in Northern Italy and during my morning runs on a golf course in Ireland and on top of a mountain in Norway and watching fire-dancers in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, and wine pairing in Tuscany and watching sunsets from every nook and cranny of the world.

I spent the funnest, sweetest, most hilarious, terrifying, sickening, challenging, life-cementing moments with a crazy gal from California, with Fijian backpacker hosts, with each of my dear 4 HelpX hosts, with Mairi from Scotland, with my favorite Australian cousins, with my favorite American cousins, with a London taxi driver and with a Tuscany limo driver, with mom and sister and dad, with a bearded Arkansan, with 2 Seattle gals, with a Vietnamese boat captain, with my old boss from DC, with Rabat tour-guides-turned-friends, with a motorbike driver in Bali, with my favorite elephant-loving college bestie, with the boy I had a crush on in 7th grade, with my Kara.

This year, I para-glided in Spain and bathed an elephant in Thailand. I tasted wine in Australia and Italy. I motorbiked with no helmet on in every South East Asian country I could find. I lost my money, phone and sanity on the Cambodian border. I snorkeled with a shark in the Great Barrier Reef and shopped Saville Row in style. I saw the sunrise over Angkor Wat and watched the sunset over Mykonos, Greece. I watched a bull fight in Portugal and took selfies with kangaroos in Brisbane. I hiked in New Zealand and Norway and slept in hammocks in Vietnam and Fiji. I traveled in style with the Kulls and on a Greek cruise. And I rode on disgusting Vietnamese sleeper-trains and peed through the hole in the floor right onto the tracks. I had the drunkest night of my entire life with my dad [and then without my dad, cause I lost him] on opening night of Oktoberfest in Munich. I closed a club down in Stavangar and I took cooking classes with people from around the world. I got sick. Very sick. And I grew stronger. Way stronger.

I’ve been home for a few months now and I often think back on this year as if it was a dream. Frankly, I’ve been ‘on-the-go’ more at the tail end of 2015 than I was one year ago today when  ‘slow, steady, be present’ in Fiji was my greatest focus. I’m definitely back home. Ratrace and 9-5 included. And definitely hoping to find my balance in 2016.

The whirlwind of home brings lots of folks to ask me ‘did it work?’ Did your trip do what you wanted it to do for you?

The answer is yes. And no.

The time and space gave me a couple of very concrete things, that I prayed for. For one, it gave me peace with the fact that I will NEVER understand. Never tie a rational bow around the bullshit uninvited presents life’s thrown my way. And I now feel so comforted by the fact that I no.longer.need.to. It doesn’t have to make sense. And that’s ok. It’s way easier to just trust that God has the plan.

But it also proved that going on a trip isn’t the answer to anything. I knew it wasn’t when I set out. I was doing this trip for tangential hopes and goals. Not running away to find myself. But what I DIDN’T anticipate was how ‘letting go’ of all fears and Type-A and ‘normality’ would shift my heart in a big way. It gave me confidence. To plan when I want to and let the rest unfold like a beautifully nuanced storybook. It gave me confidence to go after what I want and not put my eggs in baskets that don’t deserve my eggs. I think it gave me some patience and understanding. And I definitely learned how to be present. Presence…a gift for sure.

One year later, from a stranger’s kitchen, I raise my perfectly clean coffee cup to myself who raised a not-so-clean coffee cup to the Fijian sea. And I cheers to the success of that ‘growth n grace’ prayer one year ago this morning.

And I take it one step further…Here’s to keeping memories and life lessons alive and well. Here’s to folding in that ‘me’ with ‘normal life.’ Here’s to balance. And a ceaseless quench for adventure and the good life.

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‘Welcome home,’ he said. Two months ago.

‘Welcome home,’ he said, after a slightly awkward conversation about why I couldn’t squeeze in all of the answers to ‘countries visited prior to your arrival in the U.S.’ on my customs control card.

‘Welcome home,’ in a perfectly American accent.

Someone just welcomed me home, yall. And to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it yet…

What I AM feeling certain of though is this:

  • I am so, madly, deeply in love with how I lived my life in 2015. I put my health, happiness and adventure above all else. Selfish, maybe. Necessary and beautiful, yes. A million times over.
  • I feel different. Not a different person. Not the cliche bullshit. But the way in which I feel, see, hear, touch, love, dream is so emphatically stroked with a new brush. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, but the world gave me a new paintbrush on this trip. It’s full of people and memories that I want to cling to like paint on a canvas. Always.
  • America is still America. The trucks are still big. The flag still gives me goosebumps. Football is still the greatest invention ever. But this American gal comes with a slightly more global twist.

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STOP.

I wrote that first bit more than two months ago. Two months ago, someone welcomed me home. I think I just froze. I boarded a plane in Munich thinking I was more than ready to come home. I cried all the way to Dubai and then all the way to Dulles. I deplaned in America, was welcomed home, went straight to Panera and promptly froze. The trip fell into the ‘did-that-dreamyness-really-just-happen’ mode and was replaced with two months of American hustle. TWO months I’ve been home.

And in that time, I’ve batchelorette partied, wedding’ed with three of my best friends, Louisvilled with the Kulls, reunited with my Seattleites,  baby showered, San Fransisco’ed twice, swapped out my traveler’s backpack for a proper rolly-suitcase, Kansas Citied with Bcoy, Penn Stated with Sara, highschool reunioned with a buncha Navy boys, purchased winter-appropriate boots, realized I need to get my finances back in order, Christmas shopped, quenched my football-parched-life, Turkeytrotted, decorated my office desk and made my way through a year’s worth of Good Housekeepings. No, Todo, I don’t think I’m in Spain anymore.

So how do I feel now? Having been welcomed home, having adjusted to the time zone and having accepted the fact that I’m officially easing myself back in to ‘real life?’ How do I feel after two months of frozen in a dreamy stupor?

I feel so in deeply love with how I spent 2015.

I feel different.

And it feels good to be home.

 

My teapot runneth over

I fell in love with Moroccan tea last week. It’s minty and sweet and green and delicious. And so, after only 24 hours of friendship, the precious couple that hosted us in Rabat gifted me with yet another perfect metaphor…

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My teapot runneth over.

It just does. It has. Time and time again.

My dad flew over from Virginia to join me for the last two weeks of my trip. And like the rest of my 7.5 month jaunt, the time overflowed in all of the ways:

  1. Driving along the beach with the windows down, only to stop for happy hour with a view, feels like all of summer’s goodness. Perfection.IMG_1875
  2. The castle in Sintra looks like Disney came to life. Magical.IMG_1833
  3. There is no greater ‘office’ than a beach cabana in Portugal’s Algarve. Inspiring. 
  4. A box of Crayola’s exploded all over Chefchauoen, Morocco. Fact.
  5. Portuguese bull fights are the most bizarre spectacle imaginable. Dislike. I❤️Bulls.
  6. The leather tanneries and hand-made fabric weavers and pottery artisans in Fez are mind boggling. Souvenirs.
  7. Germany feels more like home than I remember it feeling when it WAS home 10 years ago. Perspective.
  8. The Lowenbrau Haus at the Munich Oktoberfest on opening night is where sobriety comes to die. Lethal. 
  9. I am now fiercely independent and so in that way, more like my dad than ever. Headbutt.  
  10. Despite headbutts, the irony is not lost on me that I was inspired to explore the world because of a man who broke my heart. And I’ll return home with one who would do about anything in his power to keep it whole. Grace.

Portugal and Morocco and Deutschland in two weeks…What else would you expect when traveling with the Colonel?

Runneth. Over.

#SoThisOneTime > Shoulda’s

So this post, written on September 14, 2015, could have looked a lot different. And I could write all day bout the shoulda’s, coulda’s and woulda’s, but for the sake of #growthngrace, I’d rather focus my heart on one of the most profound #SoThisOneTimes that ever was…

So this one time, one year ago to the day, instead of all my people flying into Seattle dressed for an evening of barn dancing and cheers’ing to love with Old Fashioned’s, my people re-routed their flights to Nashville.

Yep, about 15 of my best from around the country descended on one of the best towns in America, dressed in cowgirl boots and flannel for a weekend of line dancing and cheers’ing with anything alcoholic. Operation redirect my attention to country music, dreamy accents and my favorite winery in all the land was one of the kindest, most selfless gestures I’ve ever known.

From Kentucky to Virginia, from Seattle to LA, from Tampa to Sydney, from Georgia to DC, they showed up in droves. They showed up ready to create happy memories on a day that deserved happy memories.

And happy memories did in fact happen. On repeat for 4 days. Between pre-gaming like 18 year olds, Pharmacy burgers, dancing with my Joseph Forehand at The Stage, a night at THE Grand Ole Opry, doing inebriated cartwheels through the Opryland Hotel during ridiculous hours of the morning and the toast that was shared at Kicks Brooks’ winery, those people made an impossible weekend feel like the happy ending to a sad country song.

So today, from the middle of nowhere Morocco, I once again find myself lambasted with memories….And so on this September 14th, I’m raising my glass of Bedouin tea to a #SoThisOneTime for the books and to you sweet #Nashvegas people that have a permanent piece of my country-song-like-life.