Be your own hero // Jan 2019

Reflections

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July 2015, Me after finishing the San Francisco Full Marathon: 26.2mi or 42km


When I signed up to do the San Francisco Full, I knew what I was getting myself into. The year prior, I did my first marathon the Seattle Rock and Roll, and was hooked. I wanted to try it again and beat my time since I now knew how incredibly exhausting yet indescribably exhilarating it was to train and complete an entire marathon. I enjoyed being called crazy. I loved the feeling of accomplishment. I love looking back and knowing I did that!

These last few months, as many of you know, have been the hardest, loneliest, most mentally challenging times of my young life. The death and absence of my mom hit me like a glacial wall. It hit me at different speeds, with each time increasing in velocity towards the reality of my situation. That was how September and October felt like for me. It was inescapable and the anxiety of the emotional outbursts seeping into my outside life was getting worse with every week I chose to deal with the scariness by myself.

I was afraid to open up to my husband for fear he wouldn’t know how to care for someone in crippling sadness and unpredictable outbursts from emotional triggers. I was afraid to open up to my inner circle for fear of dependency on them to hold me up. I was afraid to tell my dad for fear of interfering with his grieving journey.


Friends, now I know the power of sharing the burden. In November, I chose to start seeing a grief therapist and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I was finally able to talk about my journey to rock bottom to someone who didn’t know me. I had to share my story of my happy childhood, my frustration with my shortened teenage years due to my family’s struggles, and conflict with my early 20’s trying to be a carefree college student but also feeling the pressure to perform and succeed. I had these great internships and jobs and activities but it was hard to balance issues in LA while also building a personal and professional life in Seattle. I seemed to have it all, and I believe at a time I did, but as of late, I’ve felt like I’m losing ground again and it’s scary.

A few months ago, I was triggered by people who would talk about things they do with their mom. I knew I was in trouble when I was standing in line at Costco to pay for my food and these two girls behind me were talking about getting their nails done with their moms. I got in my head and was thinking, you’re lucky you can do that with your mom because mine is dead and I’ll never get a chance to do that again. Dark, harsh. I know.

I was also triggered by things I watched. For the longest time I avoided watching Crazy, Rich, Asians because that’s the last book my mom was reading before her brain tumor hospitalization and she said she wanted me to read it with her and see the movie when it comes out. We all know how this story went. I never got the chance to see it with her, but I did however, finally get the strength to watch the movie when it was available to rent. John watched it with me and I was bawling at the scene where Rachel was surprised by her mom at Peik Lin’s house. It reminded me of the most recent and last Mother’s Day card I sent to my mom. On the front said: “I will always need my mama”. And it broke me to once again realize that she’s not here. But in that sadness and tearful breaths I also remind myself that I will still, always, need my momma. It felt good to not be so angry at the situation. It was another milestone to tell me I was getting better.

It’s a unique situation to be in–to have matured so quickly, to have been so independent at a young age, to have been married at 22 and to have lost your mom at 23. It’s a lot and not many people my age have gone through a similar path. You’re in a constant cycle of re-discovery and re-invention and it seems like the point of comfort and stability is not within sight.


With the celebration of 2019, I promised myself to continue in the path of mental and emotional strength again. Truthfully, in the last few weeks, I’ve struggled to find the inspiration to stay on that consistent path.

I kept making excuses. It’s a new year but I still don’t know what direction I want. I’ll just sign up for the 16 classes in 30 days at my Pilates studio to keep me physically committed to something. That should be enough, right?

But oh, it’s my grandpa and mom’s birthdays in the first half of January, so I’ll reset completely after that. That’s when I’ll get back on track and eat well again and start reading and blogging again. But after their birthdays passed, I was still feeling very unmotivated and uninspired. There was a lot going on and I couldn’t seem to get my groove back on the right track.

Last month, one of my best friends recommended I read the book Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Since I have about a two-hour commute roundtrip to and from work, I listened to the audiobook. I wanted to avoid reading self-help books but heck, I needed something to keep myself mentally occupied and off the path of emotional instability.

This was the book’s hook:

Stop believing the lies about who you are so can become who you were meant to be.

I loved it.


My first impression of the audiobook was negative because I honestly got annoyed with Rachel’s LA voice (sorry, Rachel!). But I got over it after a few moments of meditation and self-talk to listen to the words and not pay attention to the voice.

Eventually, I started looking forward to my morning and afternoon commute so I can hear Rachel’s recollections and her ability to organize her memories and turn them into stories that inspire women to be find themselves and be their best selves.

It worked. So thank you, Rachel, for getting me out of this rut and for reminding me of my strength.

The last chapter was my favorite because it inspired me to blog again and share and get back on the right foot. It only took 30 days into 2019, but better late than never, right?

Throughout Rachel’s book, I found many ways of how I related to her: the death of her older brother, the struggle with personal appearance, the relationship issues she and her husband encountered and overcame, and her never-ending journey of self-discovery and knowing your self-worth.

Listening to her speak was like listening to my own self giving me advice.

The last chapter, Chapter 20, was titled: “The Lie: I Need a Hero”. That chapter, I was reminiscing on one of the proudest moments of my life. It was when I finished the San Francisco Full Marathon in July 2015, having only trained for 9 weeks. I had an ankle injury 3 weeks before race day that threw me off-schedule for the full. But I did the damn thing! But how? How did I do it then? Because I couldn’t imagine doing that now.


The days leading up to the marathon, I was mentally preparing myself for the half marathon. I’ve already completed a full so this half should be a piece of cake. I wanted to run a 9-minute mile average, two minutes faster than my first marathon’s average mile time. For context, I finished my first full in Seattle the previous year just over 4.5 hours. It was brutal. Katy Perry’s “Roar” and OneRepublic’s “I Lived” were my theme songs for that run because it motivated me to get to the finish line and get my first marathon finisher medal.

The night before race day, I was still a little bummed that I was only going to run the half.  My family drove from LA to see me finish the race. My best friend Rachel was in San Francisco with me and she was going to run the full. I wanted so badly to run that race with her! But my body was undertrained and I wasn’t mentally prepared.

I kid you not, that night, I had a dream that I finished the full marathon. I woke up on race day at 4:30am and started to mentally prepare myself at the possibility of fulfilling that dream. My family thought I was crazy. They said I would hurt myself and to only do the half.

“Ugh, fine. Okay you’re right. I’ll do the half,” I told them before Rachel and I left for the starting line.

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As we waited to start the race, I was looking up the route for the half and see where the two races split off; half-marathon runners go the shorter way and full-marathon runners go the longer way. As we were approaching the starting line, I remember telling Rachel I was going to try to run the full. I was thinking about it, I dreamt about it and I think I can do it.

I was lighter than when I ran the full the year prior. Now, I knew my body, I knew my knees, I knew my mental resilience. I told her regardless, I’ll see her at the finish line and I’ll text her when/if I decide to do the full. I was running on adrenaline, endless positivity, and the want to get that full marathon finishers medal again. I wanted to earn my finishers t-shirt that said San Francisco Full Marathon on it, like I originally planned.

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Here’s us at the start, where I told Rachel I’ll see her right here at the finish line. 🙂


As I started the first 4 miles of the marathon, I felt like I was on cloud nine. My curated playlist was giving me life and I had a smile on my face. At mile 6, I had my first energy gel. I was chewing it as I was running on the Golden Gate Bridge and I was feeling so inspired and motivated. At the end of the bridge, at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point where runners turned around to head back to San Francisco and continue running along the Presidio and through Golden Gate Park, volunteers were handing out packets of GU gel. It was a sign.

Not only were the GU gels my favorite flavor (Strawberry) but it came with 10 gels–enough to sustain me through a full marathon. I’ll need Advil I thought, but I knew the med tents would have that. As I ran back on the Bridge towards San Francisco I kept checking in with myself. How did my body feel? And most importantly, how did I mentally feel? Could I convince myself to finish the full and run for another 3 hours?

My phone was charged and I had battery to play my Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon playlist to keep me inspired and motivated once my Friso Marathon playlist ran out of juice. I now had the calories and nutrients needed to refuel. But I knew I also needed support, so first I texted Rachel saying I’ll see her at the finish line after I finish the full. Then I texted my family saying sorry and that I was going to finish the full so I’ll be done in three hours instead of one.

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This is the photo I sent them, just as I was about to reach the fork where half and full marathoners split to continue on their routes.


I can’t describe the feeling of utter despair at mile 18, knowing I still had 8.2 miles to go until I could cross the dang finish line. I kissed my Grandpa Rey in Heaven and asked him to give me strength. Wiz Khalifa’s “See you again” was playing when I did this–what perfect timing. That song always reminded me of my Grandpa Rey.

I can’t describe the feeling of pride as I kept reminding myself that I could do this. I thought of my family greeting me at the finish line. I’d imagine it. The emotion and the happiness. I cannot wait!

Just one foot in front of the other. That’s all it takes. Just keeping on moving Raelene. I had so much freaking confidence in myself to get this done.

As I was approaching AT&T park, I started to see the finish line. THANK GOODNESS. Just a little under 3 miles now. Almost there. So close. I started to play my motivation anthems on my playlist:

  1. “Schoolin’ Life” – Beyonce
  2. “Super Bass” – Nicki Minaj (rapping this always did a good job of distracting me)
  3. “Power” – Big Gigantic & GRIZ
  4. “Divinity” – Porter Robinson
  5. “Avaritia” – deadmau5
  6. “Roar” – Katy Perry
  7. “I Lived” – OneRepublic

What a time to be alive to relive the moments as I pushed myself toward the finish line. My calves were cramping. My cheeks were slightly sunburnt. I was so hot from the constant sunshine and lack of hydration. But I kept telling myself, one foot in front of the other. You got this Raelene!!!


When I crossed the finish line, I could barely keep myself up. My legs were going to give out aaaaaany minute haha. I saw Rachel, then I saw my parents and I started crying.

What a tremendous accomplishment and what an incredible lesson to learn. I thank my village for mentally supporting me those 5 hours running on asphalt–on the infamous hills of San Francisco.

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That entire race and those moments before and after the race are my “hero” moments. I was my own hero. And as I look back at that time in my life, I am so happy that I have that story to remind me of who I was, who I am and who I am meant to be. Because of that determination and resilience, I have proven that I can do anything as long as I have the will to do it. If 2015 Raelene can do that, 2019 Raelene is capable of that and more, so long as I tell myself I can and I will.

And I urge you to find a time when you were own hero when you feel doubtful of your direction. Be proud of where you came from–the journey it took to be here and be alive. Find your light, don’t lose sight of the dream, and believe you can. The rest is still unwritten 🙂

Happy New Year and until next time!

All my love,

Raelene

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Photo above taken during a butterfly release to celebrate my mom’s 52nd birthday on Jan 18th. I love her and I miss her everyday but her light shines within me, I can feel it 🙂


Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts on Wednesdays as inspiration finds me so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


 

Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂

The Best Last Day // Nov 2018

Reflections

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Photo taken Saturday, Nov 25, 2017. Me, my mom, and my husband John 🙂


This time last year, I was preparing for the end. After spending the Thanksgiving weekend at the hospital, I got back to Seattle with a light due to my mom’s drastic improvement and high spirits. After a phone call with my dad a few days later, that light dimmed. And part of me had a feeling. Part of me knew what might happen the next time I would be back in LA.


The Last Month

Just before the Thanksgiving weekend, the week of November 20th, my mom was making suuuuuch amazing progress. She was a warrior and fought through the pain so she could get into a rehab hospital and get better. She wanted to go home.

In the beginning of November, she was still in the ICU, having 24/7 care from nurses and doctors. Two weeks later, she was having miraculous progress (of course she was!) and regained motor functions like swallowing and chewing and started to have coherent conversations with those around her. It was sooo relieving for everyone that she was well on her way to recovery.

Here are a few photos of her progress mid-November:

Mom being funny and pretending to eat her “donut” that was used for her hand-strengthening exercises (isn’t she cute?! AND her brows…kilay (eyebrows) is life, amirite?!):

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Mom sitting down in a chair after being in a hospital bed for 6 weeks:

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Mom breathing fresh air for the first time since her hospitalization with aid from her older sister (my Ninang) and a nurse (not pictured):

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By Thanksgiving week, she was approaching 8 weeks of being in the hospital and it was driving her crazy being confined in a place where she didn’t feel like it was her home. She just needed a few more days of being healthy and make continued progress and her doctors would sign off on her being transported to the rehab facility that would bring her one step closer to coming home. Hopefully on Thanksgiving Day, she would be at that facility where we’d have Thanksgiving dinner there with family and friends.

But like I mentioned earlier, just a few weeks before her miraculous recovery, when she was in worse shape than her week-of-Thanksgiving self and attached to machines that were keeping her alive, we received an update from her doctors on what her timeline looked like. Thankfully, I was in LA when I was told of her future.


Beginning of November – 5 weeks in the ICU

On Friday, November 3rd, my Dad picked me up from the airport, then we visited my mom (routine at this point) at the hospital. She was heavily sedated and was sleepy but I told her I was here and would visit the next day just in case she could hear me.

When my Dad and I got home, he told me how much time she had left. Three to six months they said.

Three to six months. I started doing the calculations in my head. It’s November. She’s been in the hospital since the beginning of October. She’ll likely make it through Christmas. Phew. 

Oh shit. The wedding celebration. It’s in March. That’s month six. I don’t know about that one. She needs to be there. She planned it, she wanted that for the both of us.

I took this news, swallowed it, digested it, and accepted it all within a few seconds then hugged my weeping father. We were sitting in my old bedroom, the bedroom that she and my dad took since it had a connected bathroom and lower bed to make it easier for her to maneuver. My dad had been sleeping alone in this bed for 6 weeks now.

While holding my dad, I didn’t feel any tears welling up. I felt nothing. I only knew that it was going to be a tough road ahead. We had to tell my little brother. The miracle baby. The baby who was my mom’s blessing because she thought she couldn’t have kids anymore after her first fight with Stage II Breast Cancer at age 29 when I was two years old.

I put on my “strong Raelene, you-have-your-shit-together” hat after not wearing it for a year since my mom was on her way to being seemingly cancer free after that 2016 summer when she was diagnosed and I cared for her.

Here we go again, I thought. But this time, I had a worse feeling because I was already thinking this might be it. There might be an even slimmer chance that she’ll get out of the ICU and be well enough to receive chemo for the cancer that had spread to her brain and was slowly killing her while left untreated. She’s so weak. She’s already been through so much. How much more can her fragile body take? How much more is she willing to fight?

I slept that night, knowing that when I wake up, my world will be once again turned upside-down into a deeper abyss and the way out would either take my mom staying alive or me moving on after her passing.


The next day was a new day. I woke up, had breakfast with my dad, went to pilates, and hung out with my brother. He still didn’t know. My dad and I agreed we’d tell him together, that night after we visit my mom as a family.

It’s now Saturday, Nov 4, 2017. I know this exact date because I have messages that show when I was ready to tell other people about the gravity of what I had learned. Three to six months.

When I spent the day with my brother, it was a happy time. For the first time, I had an opportunity to watch my brother dance live on the stage. When I walked into the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, I couldn’t help but imagine what walking into this place should’ve been like.

My mom was supposed to be holding my hand as we entered the theater. We would’ve looked at the merchandise my brother would want and pay for it together. We would’ve taken a copy of the pamphlet outlining the schedule of events–actually she’d take a few because “memories” right? haha. Then we would’ve proceeded to walk to our seats, me helping her up the steps as she slowly wobbled up to our designated row. We would’ve sat down, talked, and excitedly anticipated the moment when my brother would step on stage.

Instead, I did this all alone. Thinking about how screwed up this situation is. It’s so unfair. My brother loves my mom…how is he going to take this devastating news? She might not even make it to his high school graduation. When she first got diagnosed with Stage IV, they told us she’d live anywhere from 2 months to 2 years. In 2 years from 2016, she would see my brother graduate from high school. She was supposed to be alive and make it. But now, she’s not. Three to six months, I thought to myself again.

As I entered the performance center seats and saw the stage, the energy I felt from the families and friends there was overwhelming. Parents were happy and holding flowers. Grandparents were sitting with their blankets on their laps. Cousins and siblings ran around from seat to seat, arguing which has the best view. My grandpa just passed away and now my mom is going to be gone. What is my family going to look like? 

This thought was so painful, so painful that I started to feel tears in my eyes. Wow. Tears. Feelings. That’s nice. I haven’t felt that in awhile. But I withheld from expressing and found my seat and quietly stared at the stage while waiting for the show to start.

I watched my brother dance. He had so much passion on the stage. So many of these kids did. It was their outlet, just like singing and playing the piano and guitar, and doing sports was to me. I was so proud of the little man he was becoming. I now had a duty to be as best of an Ate (older sister) as I can be to him now that I knew my mom wasn’t going to make it much longer.

After his dance competition, we had dinner then drove to the hospital to meet our dad. When we got there, my dad had an update for us from the doctor. In ordered to make it easier for my mom to eat, they wanted to move her feeding tube from her nose and attach it directly to her stomach. She needed to have surgery so she could receive her nutrients and the risk for infection would decrease.

“Okay,” we all said. My mom wanted us to be by her side until she would go into surgery so we stayed together, the three of us until she was prepped and ready for surgery. As we told my mom “see you later” and promised that we would be back when she wakes up, I couldn’t help but think about how bittersweet this picture externally looked. A family together before sending their loved one into another surgery, promising to be there when they woke up. Please wake up and have this surgery be smooth and successful. Please no more complications.


The surgeon said that it could take a few hours until she’s awake and ready to be transported back to her normal Level 1 CCU for recovery. It was already around midnight when we were heading back to the car to wait for her surgery to be finished. My dad and I were planning on telling my brother once we were in the car. He still had no clue in the world how bad my mom’s current state was. Ugh.

While we were walking to the car, I needed to tell my friends what was going on. I knew things were only going to get harder and I needed the support. This is what I sent them:

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Knowing they were there gave me the strength I needed to tell my brother.

And so I did. We did. My dad and I did. We told him, “Mom has 3-6 months left. We need to make the most out of it and make her proud. We need to do our best.” As we sat in the car parked in the hospital lot, we started to learn how to be a family of 3.

And so my brother cried. I held him through the heaves and the puffs and the gasps for breath as he took in the information. As I consoled him, I just remember staring at a bush, thinking “Why? My mom was a good person and she loved with honesty. She has so much life to live. Was that not enough for the god she believed in?”

And as we waited for the phone call from the hospital saying that my mom was out of surgery, I just had thoughts. So many thoughts of life, family, and death. I let my brother and my dad sleep while I kept an eye on the car, staying up until 2am until I realized that it had been over the time that the surgeon had quoted.

As much as my dad wanted us to stay there to wait for the phone call, I told him “Mom knows that we are here for her. She’s in good hands. If there was an emergency they would’ve called by now. We all need to sleep and we need to sleep in our beds. Tomorrow is a new day and we will come back after we rest.”

So we went home, I tucked my brother into bed, gave my dad a kiss and assured him that everything is going to be okay in the end, and went to sleep.


The End of November – 8 weeks in the hospital

Fast forward a few weeks and we are now at Thanksgiving week. The week of the best last day. I call it the best last day because the week after the best last day, was the worst last day. It was December 3, 2017 when she died and joined the angels. But that experience is for next week as I continue to reflect and extract memories to share with you and memories to let go of and store in back of my brain so I can move on.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, beginning of November was when we heard the news of her timeline, the middle of November was when her health turned around and started to improve, and a week leading to Thanksgiving weekend was when we were all hopeful she was going to get well enough to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility and be on her way closer to home.

When John and I arrived in LA for Thanksgiving dinner, we were excited at the opportunity of spending that dinner together with family and friends at the rehab center. But when we landed we were notified that my mom needed to go into surgery because there was a tear on her intestine from the feeding tube that was causing internal bleeding and pain.

I was so excited to see her because for the past two weeks, I was getting texts and pictures of her improvement and she even FaceTimed me telling me that she wanted to see me and wanted to see John. So I was visibly upset to find ourselves back at the hospital, in the waiting room, hoping again that there will be no complications and she’ll be fine. This place was getting too familiar and I was hating the situation.

But even though the situation sucked, it was still Thanksgiving and there was still food to be eaten and a great community to celebrate with. So for Levy, we dined and feasted and prayed and laughed at our house.

After a delicious dinner, we all took turns going to the hospital as my mom recovered from the surgery. She was sedated but I was sure she can hear us all.


The next two days were spent in and out of the hospital. I was trying to balance being normal and spending time with high school friends but as soon as my mom woke up from surgery, she begged me to stay by her side. So I did. We all did.

What a great time to know who mattered. I learned through these countless hospital visits what true friendship meant, what family meant and what love in all forms meant. We shared the ICU family waiting room with many other families who were also going through a roller coaster of emotions. But hugs were shared, tissues were shared, food was shared, and for that community, I am thankful we all gave our families that space and respect.

Since my mom’s room was shared with 3 other patients, we were only allowed 2-3 visitors max per patient. But since we had a good relationship with the nurses and since my mom was a good patient, they sometimes would allow visitors in groups of 5-6 as long as we kept quiet and kept it brief.

I have a handful of memories from those two days spent in the hospital: tickling my mom’s feet to make her laugh, holding her hand while she got a PICC line inserted on her chest, sharing laughs with my family in the waiting room, watching John show love for my mom through storytelling, seeing my dad’s constant dedication to my mom even though he was sleep-deprived…I saw it all and I am so damn thankful for all of those memories because those were my last happy memories with my mom.

I do have a few memories I’d like to share with you all, though 🙂


“I am going to be the cutest mother-of-the-bride at your wedding celebration”

In order to keep my mom forward-looking and positive as she fought through the pain of having a tube externally attached to her stomach and recovering from surgery on her intestines, while also healing from her brain surgery two months before, I asked her questions about what she looked forward to when she got out of the hospital.

She said she looked forward to our wedding celebration and wanted to be the cutest mother-of-the-bride there. She’s clever because she also mentioned that of course John’s mom would be the most beautiful mother-of-the-groom there 🙂 She was just that caring and considerate. Bless her.


“Grandbabies”

Of course, in true mom-fashion, she also looked forward to being a grandmother. Although I knew it in my heart that she wouldn’t live that much longer, I gave her that image and moment to take with her. She would’ve been such a loving, fun, and amazing Lola. I know that when the time comes, I’ll make an effort to teach my kids about the amazing woman that she was and would’ve been.


The Five People You Meet in Heaven

During the time when my mom recovered from the worst of the breast cancer to her time in the ICU, she was reading. I gave her a book to read and downloaded it on her iPad but she never really started it.

On my last day in LA before leaving for Seattle after Thanksgiving, I wanted to also prepare my mom for what was to come without making her scared. So I started to read The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. I had an hour left before I needed to leave for the airport and that’s what I wanted to do, was to read this book to her.

I read the book just as she was getting sedated for her pain meds that were administered every 4 hours. She would drift from time to time but I would wake her and make sure she was understanding what the story was about. My dad was there too, listening in and taking in the scene in front of him.

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I only made it to the first chapter, and until now I haven’t been able to pick up where I left off as the action of turning the page makes it seem more final that she’s gone and I am not completely ready for that yet.

But it was happy. And I hope that that story gave her peace during her last few days on the earth.


Phew. I know it was a lot, trying condense the main events of November 2017 into one post, but I figured it would be best to leave it all on here before I post next week after celebrated her one year death anniversary on December 3rd.

I hope that these stories of pain and happiness have given you some sort of idea of what it was like to be there with me and my family as we suffered with and showed our love for my mom.

As this weekend approaches and as the reality of what next Monday December 3rd will be like, all I would ask is for you to think of the great almost 51 years of life she lived and spread her kindness to those you meet.

For those who don’t know me, I hope you have learned through reading my story the importance of celebrating the good, seeing the glass half full in the hard times, and knowing that to be human is to recognize the balance of living–of finding the yin to the yang, of discovering and learning and teaching and growing. It’s amazing what we can accomplish through these actions.

No one is perfect, but we can always strive for the best. To be the best. To do your best. My mom always said that. “Just do you best, Anak.”

Until next week, cheers!


Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


 

Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂

 

Role Reversal // Nov 2018

Reflections
Scans 2 (28 of 53)

Selfless (adj.) –

Concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own; unselfish.

‘an act of selfless devotion’
Levy Olivares was a devoted mother, wife, friend, sister and daughter. She was loyal and loving and she was fierce when it came to caring for those she kept close to her heart. It only seemed fitting that I grow as a adult holding these qualities while honoring her spirit.
I learned about what it meant to be selfless the summer I temporarily moved back to LA after graduating from college to care for my sick mother. I learned what devotion meant. I learned what love meant. I learned what the circle of life was. I learned this through the switch of roles we experienced with one another. I was now caring for her as she did for me for 22 years.
“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors” – Tia Walker, author
I was at my Filipino Graduation dinner on the Tuesday of graduation weekend when I got the phone call from “Momma Olivares” at 6:50pm, 10 minutes before the dinner was supposed to start. It was to celebrate me and my graduating class from the Filipino club I’ve been a part of the past four years of college. My friends were with their families and my two best friends were coming to support me in the absence of mine.
My mom, dad, and brother were planning on flying to Seattle that Friday, staying until graduation until Sunday afternoon, which was also my dad’s birthday. Then we were going to fly back to LA together, have a quick grad dinner nearby with the rest of our family, and from there I would get dropped off at the International terminal at LAX to leave for my six-week Asia trip I had saved up for 6 months.
Only my dad and brother were able to make it that weekend.

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When I got the phone call that Tuesday night, I was already nervous. I knew to expect a phone call from my mom because my parents had more news about her cancer diagnosis. Just the day before we were informed that she had Stage IV Breast Cancer.

What we knew so far in the past three weeks of doctor appointments:

  1. They found a mass on her breast. (3rd week of May 2016)
  2. The mass is cancerous. (4th week of May)
  3. She has cancer of the breast. (May 30th)
  4. It’s Stage IV Breast Cancer (May 31st)

We had follow-up questions:

  1. How bad was it?
  2. She’s in so much pain she can’t even sit up or stand. Has it spread? She was just walking last week.
  3. How aggressive was this cancer?
  4. How much time did she have?
  5. What can we do?

I answered the call. On the other line was my mom. She asked how Fil Grad was going. I said Rachel and John are coming. I was straight to the point. I asked her what they found out.

“It’s everywhere, Anak. I am so sorry.” – Momma

“What do you mean everywhere?” – Me

Sobbing, pain, moaning in the background. No response.

“What does this mean?” I asked differently.

Things started to get hazy for me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and sat down on the side of the Hall while the dinner was continuing on.

I think my dad was the one who told me and answered my questions.

This is what I learned:

  1. The cancer has metastasized. It has spread to other parts of the body.
  2. Aside from her breast, it spread to these areas:
    1. Her ribs
    2. Her lungs
    3. Her pelvis
    4. Her hips
    5. Her T7-T9 spine
    6. Basically her entire thoracic cavity.

F**K. It’s no wonder she can’t walk and she’s in agonizing pain.


After speaking with my Tita who was a nurse and from that point forward our medical translator, I made the decision to hold off on my Asia Adventure, turn down my post-grad job offer and instead spend that time home in LA, taking care of my mom.

I made the phone calls to Hong Kong and the Philippines to let my relatives know why I can no longer come.

My mom’s wishes were to keep this private and to pray for her. So they did. Thank you for supporting our family and respecting our privacy during that time. You know who you are. 🙂


That summer 2016 was grueling. It was so traumatizing and de-moralizing that I can barely remember what I did and what my mom went through. All I know is that we did it, with my family’s help and with the supportive of our close-knit community. You know who you are. Thank you so much for being there for her and for us. 🙂

I took care of my mom. I fulfilled my duties as a daughter and it had come full circle. After two months of non-stop chemo and 10 rounds of radiation, my mom was still alive thanks to modern medicine and those who cared for her—Her “angels” as she would call them.

The memories I do have are both painful and beautiful.


Growing up, I would visit family friends who owned care homes and I had an idea of what this would be like but never imagined that I would be doing what the caregivers did at age 22. I imagined I’d be doing it at 60! But I made the choice to be there for my mom.

I wiped her butt. I cleaned up her messes. I gave her baths. I fed her. I administered her medication. I would clean up the messes she’d make in public bathrooms. I kept her distracted. I told her it’s okay. I told her it’s just a little mess and wipes will clean it up.

I drove her to doctor’s appointments. I memorized the perfect routine to the different medical destinations so that we can drive with the smoothest roads and the least amount of potholes and bumps. I learned to be patient and drive at 30 mph when the limit was 45 mph so there was less of a chance for painful, abrupt stops.

I helped her get up from bed even though she would be screaming from the pain with every degree she gained as her tumor-filled body lifted from the mattress. I learned to drown that sound so I could concentrate on carefully lifting her with minimal pain. I asked the radiation nurses on what their techniques were for patients like my mom and on what medical products we should buy to ease the pressure on her broken spine.

With the help of my Ninang, we prepared meals that were healthy and were advised for cancer patients. She needed food high in iron because she was anemic. She needed protein because she could barely keep her food in even though she was hungry. She missed tasty Filipino food but I told her no. She can’t have it, but she loved me for being a hard ass.


There were good times too, though. I made her laugh. I gave her kisses. I told her she could do this. I made her believe that she’s a warrior–that she had dignity and purpose. I told her stories. I held her hand. She had hope.

In her better times, she’d allow others to visit her so long as they promised not to cry,  not to wear perfume, and didn’t bring fragrant flowers. Eventually her best friends were notified of her condition and they even flew out to visit her. I learned what it meant to be best friends during those times I’d watch my mother spend time with her friends.

When she was able to get up from bed again, my brother and I took her for a short drive to a parking lot by the ocean. She wanted to smell fresh air but knew the beach was too far of a drive. As we sat in the car with the windows rolled down, we just sat there quietly as our mother closed her eyes and smelled the scenery around her.

My Ninang and I would switch shifts at night when I would sleep or she would sleep and someone would be near her door to answer when the bell rang so we knew she needed help so my dad can try to sleep. He always wanted to sleep next to my mom even though they could only hold hands and my mom was moaning in pain 70% of the time. My Ninang and I gave them that space. My dad would come home tired from work after being in the road for 12 hours and it gave my mom joy to be reunited with him after a hard day.

Almost everyday was a hard day.

Before bed, my mom would listen to a prayer series on her phone until she fell asleep. She looked to God for guidance and strength when she didn’t have any and it worked for her. People would come over and pray over her and she felt moved. So thank you to those who did that for her. You know who you are 🙂

When I woke up from my 6am alarm, I’d be lucky to have gotten 5-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. My mom was in pain and she had so much fear for the future because of it. But damn that woman is strong and she got better, even for a little.

But honestly most of the time I was in LA, I was a freaking robot. It’s taken me two years to even begin remembering what transpired that summer. It was instinct and devotion that gave me the ability to care for my mom and stay sane.


There was one distinct beautiful memory I take with me whenever I think of my mom’s love and when I ask myself if I did enough after she died.

Around July 2016, after 10 rounds of back-to-back radiation and a few weeks of chemo, my mom was able to stand again and she was strong enough to hold herself up for a bath.

When I gave my mom a bath, a real bath in the shower and not with wet towels and wipes, she was so reinvigorated and happy. Her “ahhhhhs” and “ooohhhhs” made me laugh and she was in pure bliss. “I feel like I’m in a spa. Thank you, Anak!” She said.

As I helped her out of the shower and began to dry her fragile body, I was thinking “Wow, I can’t believe this is happening.”

I just gave my 50 year old mother a bath. 

I avoided eye contact with her while drying her so I wouldn’t show emotion during this pivotal moment in our relationship. But I eventually made eye contact with her, seeing her gratitude while gently wiping her face dry with a towel.

She said, “Thank you Anak for taking care of me. I used to give you baths and now you’re giving me a bath. I didn’t want this to happen so soon when you’re so young.”

I replied, “Of course Momma. I’m your daughter, it’s my job to take care of you because you took care of me.” That’s all I could say back before I knew I would start to show emotion behind my eyes–something I kept from her to be strong for her.

She recognized my pain and my sacrifice and I am forever thankful for that.


Because of that moment I have no regrets on how things transpired with my mom and it gave me the strength to continue on for another year and half until I saw her very last breath and knew I couldn’t do anything more for her.

But that story is for later. I wanted to end with this memory.

This beautiful memory of parent and child. Hug your kids and tell your parents you love them.


Thank you Momma, for giving me the honor of caring for you. It’s the least I can do in return for raising and caring for me. Miss you everyday!


 

Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


 

Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂

 

 

The Origination of Monday Musings // Oct 2018

Good Vibes

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Around January 2014 I got a text from my mom saying that she experienced a minor stroke. I clearly remember my environment while reading those words, saying she had a stroke. I was staring at my phone, getting tunnel vision, on a hill climber machine at SeattleU’s gym and I tried to act normal with my gym buddies as the realization of this medical scare sank in.

As soon as I got back into my dorm room, I called my mom. I asked her how it happened. I wanted to feel included and make her feel like I was there for her. It was so long ago that I don’t really remember our conversation, but I do remember the fear and guilt I felt.

After that blurry conversation, I called my best friend from high school.  Both our moms have had health and medical issues for as long as we could remember so we found comfort in sharing these moments with one another. I remember telling her how guilty I felt that I didn’t have the best relationship with my mom and that I wasn’t there for my mom during this time. I talked about my fear that if a stroke happens again, she could be unrecognizable and turn into a “vegetable”. I understand now how insensitive that word is, but I was 19 at the time, I didn’t know what to think yet.

More phone calls to my best friends were made. There were tears and minor freak outs of thinking “it could’ve been worse” and “I wasn’t there” and “my mom needed me”. So after that night, I started talking to my mom everyday and that’s truly when our mother/daughter relationship began.


Around this time I was juggling three jobs while trying to enjoy college life as a 19-year old sophomore. I was working as an finance intern in a wealth management firm after kicking ass my first summer, I was also working in the admissions office, and was also working as a Resident Assistant in SeattleU’s party-building, Campion Hall.

With those jobs, I was proud of my financial independence and continued doing well in school, finding new hobbies and enjoying my funtivities. I was also in a relationship for almost a year and we were both RA’s trying to balance the professional and romantic relationship as two young adults.

The stress of everything around me started compounding after hearing my mom’s news and it was the first time I ever really felt loneliness and the first time I felt like I had the world on my shoulders. Welcome to the adult world, I thought.


Prior to this January scare, I was doing great. I felt balanced, I felt secure, and I felt supported. I was going to the gym regularly, doing tabata classes and discovering the magical practice of yoga. I was also reading books from my finance/sales internship that talked about success and prioritizing yourself so you can help others.

The most applicable book I had read when my mom informed me of her stroke was a book called “The Strangest Secret” by Earl Nightingale. This short book focused on the thought “you become what you think about”.

If you think that you are going to be sad and poor, you will be sad and poor. But if you really push yourself to think harder and be bolder, you will be the great human you aspire to be. Cliche, I know. But it’s the power of thought that can get you through anything. The mind is so amazing and fascinating that way.

I introduced this idea of “you become what you think” to my mom. I told her, “Mom, you probably had this stroke because you’ve been over-exerting yourself and not taking the time to set goals and think about what your purpose is.” She agreed. She was trying to get back into work and get out of a rut. She just had a hysterectomy performed a few months before in September that was painful to recover from. She felt limited and stuck and her negative thoughts got the best of her. She let her thoughts consume her with self-doubt, self-pity, and sadness.


Every morning thereafter, I texted her a quote or something positive to inspire her. I shared that I did yoga on Wednesday mornings and it really helped me cope with the stress of working three jobs, balancing a relationship, and also trying to be a good RA for my residents. It was time for myself to reflect and have a well-deserved mental break.

Alas, this resulted in my coined “Wellness Wednesday”. I kept it to myself at first, then started sharing it with others who also felt the stress of life. Every Wednesday, I would make the extra effort to do something for myself. Whether it’d be morning yoga or a long run to Lake Washington or a walk to Molly Moon’s for a split scoop of lavender and earl grey ice cream in a cup or a waffle cone for an extra dollar.

This positive thinking and daily conversation lifted my mom’s spirits. She started to strengthen her faith with God and bought a book with daily devotions. She’d share pictures with me of quotes she’d find interesting and meaningful and also tell me the good parts of her day that she was proud of.


The power of positive thinking is so important, especially during a time when it seems like things are falling apart. I truly started learning the lesson of the glass half empty or half full during one of the darker times of my young adult life.

Yes, it got exhausting trying to be there mentally for my mom, everyday, but it was worth it. Anything I can do to prevent her from another medical scare and to make her mentally stronger, I did.

Eventually, she turned it around after taking the time to take care of herself and she started sharing her positivity with others. She called this her “Monday Musings…” and she posted quotes and photos that she resonated with and thought would resonate with others.


Levy’s Monday Musings became a part of her identity and it was something she carried with her to her final resting place. When she was in and out of intense medical trials or personal troubles, she would look forward to the time when she’d be well enough to share Monday Musings with others.

She posted Monday Musings everyday for almost a year and half until she got suddenly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in June 2016. Then it got silent for a few months and she came back online that November with a new zest for life.

This zest was infectious, everyone who saw her posts about Monday Musings, her cooking, and her selfies LOVED it. And she loved all of you for giving her that sense or purpose. I know it meant so much to her that she could uplift others who were struggling as she once or sometimes did

Unfortunately, the last Monday Musings she posted was on Monday, October 2, 2017. This was the Monday after we buried my Grandpa Lu. I say this to exemplify how much she cared about these posts to her friends and family. During my Grandpa’s funeral, I could tell something was wrong and she was off. She was complaining about an intense migraine that wouldn’t go away. It persisted for two weeks, even with medication, but she continued saying she was okay and that it will pass.


As I type this, I am shaking at the thought of the final week of my mom as a relatively normal human in the outside world. This was before we discovered the massive brain tumor. Before she was attached to tubes. Before she lost her speech. Before she spoke her last words to me. Before she died, two and half months later.

The days leading to the knowledge of the brain tumor will come in another post because I want this post to focus on Levy’s Monday Musings and the strength it gave her and others. I just wanted to also share the gravity of that last post because it’s eerie and sad…saying “last” of something or someone who is no longer here.


ANYWAY (deep breath), this was her last Monday Musings:

No photo description available.

She posted this because wanted to focus on her recovery and upcoming infusion. She had a life in front of her planned out and she just needed to continue moving forward towards the land of being cancer-free.

So to those who are reading this and following my journey as I share and reflect, whatever you may be dealing with, try to focus on the good. Try to envision who you want to be and don’t lose that vision. Whether you want to be a hip grandma taking your kids to Disneyland or a 20-something working your ass of to earn a promotion, see the dream. Make the dream a reality.

I always tell my mentees: once you see yourself in the future as the person you want to be, don’t ever lose sight of the dream!! Work harder, play harder, and stay humble. Be kind and the universe will be kind back to you.

Til next Wednesday, friends. I hope you took at least a little part of your day to give yourself a pat on the back for being being present and for being you. GO YOU! 🙂


 

Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


 

Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂

Ten months // Oct 2018

Reflections

My first try at sharing my thoughts with the world wide web.

“The Unknown” — ford.

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It’s taken me ten months to finally open up about the struggle of adjusting to a life where the woman who gave me life is no longer here.

A year ago today, on Monday, October 9th, 2017, I was in the ICU at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Carson, CA, trying to find a way to communicate with my mom through sound and touch. She was in a medically-induced coma following an emergency surgery the day before to remove a tumor the size of your palm from the left hemisphere of her brain.

Look at your hand. Isolate your palm. That’s the size of the tumor attached to the dura (lining that protects the brain) in my mom’s head. This small detail that it’s attached to the dura and not the brain, gave my family hope. Hope that she might be able to recover with minimal damage to the brain and live the life she wanted to live. Just a few weeks ago she had a thoracic x-ray done that showed only tiny tumors left from her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis from June 2016. We all had hope she was going to be the miracle case that doctors would talk about when telling their patients about survival rates after being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She wanted to beat it so badly.

But at this point in time, we’ve been holding on to this word for almost a year and a half. This word hope. We’ve been attached to this word hope, thinking that it would make things better and help us deal with the tragedy in front of us. My mom was dying and the word hope didn’t give me comfort–instead it made my angry. It made me feel like I was living in a false reality where every good person lives to tell the tale of how they survived cancer. But I am a realist. I knew the chances, the risks, the hard future ahead no matter the outcome. After October 9,  2017, I didn’t use that word anymore to describe how I envisioned the future state of my mother and my family.

It got really dark after I left that ICU a year ago today.


I was scheduled to return Seattle on Wednesday, October 10th after taking an emergency flight to LA after hearing about my mom’s life-threatening condition.

Just two days before, on Sunday, October 8th, 2017, I was on a beautiful hike in the North Cascades with on my good friend from high school and her girlfriend. The day before the hike, on October 7th, I was told of the nasty tumor that invaded my mom’s head. Her condition was quickly deteriorating…we didn’t know how much time she had before the tumor in her head would kill her so she was scheduled for surgery on that Tuesday.

It was supposed to be on Tuesday, October 10th that she’d have the surgery to remove the nasty tumor. Instead, it was on Tuesday that I left the room that housed my mother and 5-6 other ICU patients fighting for their lives.


The scene I left behind was my dad trying to talk to my mom, telling her how strong she is, how she’s going to get through this, and how much my dad needs her to fight. It was her second time with cancer and the second time they were going through this together…they can get through anything. They’ve been together since they were 18. My mom just celebrated her 50th birthday that January 2017.

My mom was intubated, eyes swollen shut, head wrapped in inches of cotton and cloth to reduce the swelling of her brain. I took a photo if this heartbreaking scene and as much as I want to share this powerful image with you, I will keep it private so as to respect the intimacy between my mom and dad.


Around 8pm, just an hour before I left the ICU for the night (they were closed to visitors at 9pm), my mom communicated with me. I was with my Tita (aunt and godmother), my mom’s sister-in-law, when she communicated with me. I was talking to her telling her “Mom, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand or wiggle your toes for me.” I repeated this many times, waiting for the moment where her sedatives and pain medication would wear off just enough for her to regain consciousness and hear my voice.

For over 24 hours after the surgery she lay motionless, but on this night, she was moving so we knew she was aware and her brain was still functioning.

I repeated the task I gave her. “Mom, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand or wiggle your toes for me.”


For a year and a half, my immediate and extended family sacrificed everything to take of my mom. I sacrificed the summer I graduated from college to be her caregiver when I was supposed to travel through Asia for 6 weeks as a graduation present for myself and from my parents.

When I left to go back to Seattle, my Ninang (godmother), her older sister, stayed in LA to take care of her.

My Ninong (godfather), her older brother, would drive my mom to her countless appointments and chauffeur my little 17-year old brother to his extracurricular activities to relieve my Ninang.

My Tita would come over to give her shots before blood tests so she can be healthy enough for another infusion. My mom had infusions every three weeks since she was diagnosed up until the discovery of the brain tumor.

My dad was the sole provider, working 12 hour days, almost 7 days a week to provide for my mom and brother and keep a roof over their heads.

This was a night we gathered around her to make sure that she knows she is not alone. That we are there for her, no matter what. We were all a team, rooting for Levy.


My mom was fierce, but when she was weak, she would turn to me for strength and support. I was her best friend and though it took me awhile to accept this, she was mine. I had always been a daddy’s girl but my mom needed me and I needed her to be here for me to guide me through life.

Everyday, we’d say good morning and we’d say goodnight. She’d talk to me about her pain. I would tell her to keep moving and take her meds. She’d talk to me about her sadness. I would tell her that she has lots to look forward to like me getting married and my brother graduating from high school. She’d talk to me about her dreams. I would tell her to keep on fighting because she’s freaking superwoman and the world needs people like her. She’d talk to be about her fears. I would tell her that at the end, I’ll be there to make sure everything will be okay. She made me promise. I always promised and I intend to keep them. For her.


“Mom, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand or wiggle your toes for me.”

She moved her toes. My GOODNESS! Yes! She moved her toes! She can hear me! She knows that I am here! She’s conscious and she can understand my command!

“Do it again,” I told her. She did. Gosh, I was so proud of her. DAS MY MOMMA!

I started to tear up from the overwhelming relief. Then I stopped myself from forming actual tears, knowing that showing weakness in front of her was something she didn’t want to see from me. I needed to be strong for her. For my dad. For my brother. I need to keep it together.

Knowing that she could hear me, I knew that I could leave for Seattle and come back and she would be fine. At least for another week, maybe two. She’s alive and conscious and as long as she continues her recovery, she will be okay.

I wasn’t ready yet for her to be gone. She wasn’t ready yet to leave. Not today you aren’t, Momma!! You keep fighting.


I arrived back in my family home and prepared for my early 6am flight the next day. I booked my flight to come back to LA to visit her in two weeks. Then, I finally went to sleep. I woke up at 4am on Wednesday, October 11th, flew back to Seattle and continued on my seemingly great and normal 23-year old life.


Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂