Tag Archives: Oncology support

Wild Walkers

My son and my dog are always eager to join me in the woods.

Walking in nature is my favorite medicine. No matter what is happening in life, I come back to the simplicity of breath and the alert wisdom of my senses. The breeze kisses sweat from my brow, my ears fill with the magical mimicry of the mockingbird, and I smell the sweet rot of leaves mixed with pine sap and wet earth. This May will mark the threshold of 5 years since my cancer diagnosis, and I am still conscious that each step forward holds newness and potential. I am deliberate with my walking, not in a way that is urgent or set on a fixed destination, but I walk with gratitude and awareness shaping each step of the journey.

It wasn’t always this easy to move through the woods. I remember how I felt during treatment, when at only 36 years old I gauged each day with a perceived age. My husband Joey would ask, “How do you feel today?” and I might reply, “I’m 87 today,” after  the Neupogen shot left a shattered glass feeling in the bones, or I might say, “I’m only 63 today!” when I was on the upswing between treatments. I forced myself to go out on slow walks down our long gravel driveway, no matter what. The dappled light through the trees brought me out of whatever funk I was  feeling, and helped me have a sense of accomplishment, even if I knew that an extra mid-day nap would be required.

The year after treatment ended, I desperately wanted to get my strength and stamina back. I wanted to give back in a meaningful way too, and help others going through cancer treatment. I signed up for the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer, and spent months going on longer and longer training walks, preparing my body to make it through the 39 mile trek that would take us all over Manhattan over the course of two days. By mile 34, I was limping with every step. At each rest stop, there was a parked van, taunting me, the driver gently offering to drive me to the finish line, but I refused to stop. I had fought too hard, and come too far to let some blisters get in the way. I held a mantra in my mind with each step thinking, “F*ck Cancer” and repeated that in my mind. I pictured each step as walking towards my health. Then I repeated the names of my friends and family who were still facing their diagnosis, as well as those who had died from cancer. I said their names over and over, each step bringing me closer to the finish line.

I am bringing my love of walking in nature to my local community, coordinating nature walks and hikes twice a month here in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York. I’ve dubbed the group the, “Wild Walkers”. I’m hoping more cancer survivors will join me, but want to also welcome people who love and support  cancer survivors. Come celebrate life with me, one step at a time.  Visit www.melissaeppardcoaching.com/events for more info on the two types of walks. Make sure your doctor has cleared you for exercise and join me for Walk Gently or Walk Strong, depending on what your body needs.

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Follow the Money Trail$: Keeping your Contributions Local

I had the chance to speak at a local fundraiser last night. Because we are on the cusp of going from Ovarian Cancer Awareness month to Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought I would share what I read last night and tell you why it is so important to make charitable donations to your local community whenever possible. I feel SO incredibly lucky living here in the Hudson Valley of NY, to have the supportive programming of the Health Alliance Foundation Oncology Support Program. You don’t know what exists out there until you really need it.

Here is what I shared…

“My neighbor was recently diagnosed with cancer. Unlike me, he has no family; he is an older gentleman who lives alone with his dog. When we spoke, I could tell he was confused and overwhelmed by all the information his doctors threw at him. He has to travel 2 hours each way to get to some appointments. I could see in his face that he was sinking and I was grateful to be able to throw him a life preserver. I told him about the Health Alliance Oncology Support Program, about the social workers who will sit with him and come to appointments with him. His face lit up when I mentioned the possible assistance with gas and groceries. We didn’t even get into the healthy lifestyle and exercise classes, cooking and gardening programs, and great writing and art classes too. I know there are so many people like my neighbor who may struggle without the support of family and a network of friends. The Oncology Support Program is there for people like him.

I didn’t really come into the OSP fold when I was freshly diagnosed. I turned to writing my blog, Melissa’s Healing Hope, as a way to process and heal emotionally. I tried attending a group at OSP early on, but ­­ didn’t identify myself as a survivor because I hadn’t survived anything yet, that dark cloak of surgery and treatments still about to fall. While the ladies in the group were very kind, I felt out of touch as a younger person with cancer.

It was after treatment ended that I found myself back at the Oncology Support Program. With a head full of soft peach fuzz, I struggled to make my post cancer life fit into something recognizable. I wondered who I was now and how to continue living with this cloud of fear and uncertainty looming over me as a survivor of hereditary breast cancer. At that time I was acutely feeling the lack of a young women’s support group in the area and considered starting a group of my own when I learned that a new Young Women’s Support group had just formed at the OSP. ­I found harbor there. There was safety and a normalizing just being with people who KNOW… who get the sacrifices of being a younger person with cancer, who know the exquisite pain of uncertainty. In this space I began to no longer feel like I was barely surviving, but found my new footing as a Thriver!

Instead of getting lost in the “What-If’s of a post cancer life, what keeps me going is my mission to give back. I give what I have and that is my time. I do this through my work as a Life Coach holding space for other people’s search for a fulfilling and meaningful life, and in sharing my voice through writing. I have recently started to co-facilitate that same young women’s support group that was my safe harbor, and just this week completed the Nurturing Neighbor training program that offers peer mentorship to other people diagnosed with cancer. I can never un-do this cancer experience, and I will never be who I was before all of this, but I like to think that I now have this gift of experience and authentic compassion, that I can show up and be there for others who are diagnosed with cancer or met with other life challenges, so they won’t feel so isolated and alone.

But there are other ways, very tangible ways to give. Giving gives back to the Giver. When you support the Oncology Support Program through the Health Alliance Foundation your charitable contributions improve the lives of people living with cancer here in the Hudson Valley. Thank you!”

…So where is the need at and who is answering the call right in your own backyard? Find out how you can help. I have previously written about shady foundations  who pocket large percentages of charitable contributions. What I love about the Health Alliance Foundation is that 100% of the donations go directly to the local people it serves, so that residents of the Hudson Valley hopefully never have to choose between having a treatment or skipping it to pay the electric bill.

Thank you for taking the time to read this!

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