"once you choose hope, anything is possible"

Monday, May 5, 2014

facing my fears

There's something to be said about facing your fears with the help of your friends and family. It's scary, and nerve racking, and tear inducing, but when it's over, when it's all said and done, it's the most rewarding thing in the world.

I've never really been a fan of public speaking. I've also never really been a fan of talking about myself, of sharing my story. So when I decided to speak at Marquette's Relay For Life this year, I instantly regretted my decision. The idea of standing in front of 500+ people and telling my story was enough to make me sick, and yet I knew deep down that it was something I had to do. Pretty much everyone who knows me also knows that Relay For Life is a huge part of my life. It is something that I swear by, one of my favorite nights of the year. It has been a huge source of hope and healing for me over the past three years, and I knew this year would be no different. Standing in front of 500 of my classmates and community members is something I will never be able to describe. Getting to share the story of some of the strongest people I have ever encountered is an honor I will never be able to verbalize. Looking out at the audience and seeing my sisters, my friends, my team, my sorority made me feel more loved and cherished than I ever had in my life. Saturday April 26th is a night I will never forget, it's something that I will hold with me for the rest of my life.

My day started hectic and busy, much like I expected it to be. But I got to spend the day with an amazing committee who had all been working their butts off to make this event go off without a hitch. It was so great to see everything come together. We had spent all year planning this one day, and with the guidance of our amazing leaders, Christine, Kristen, and Megan, everything came together so perfectly. My day was also spent with my stomach in knots. I had practiced my speech all week and yet I was still so freaking nervous. I so desperately wanted to be able to accurately share the story of the angels looking over me, and I knew that this was a huge responsibility. I also really didn't want to stand in front of a crowded gymansium and cry, something I was almost positive I wasn't going to be able to achieve.

Right before the event, I took off with another committee member to pick up some last minute donations and the dinner for our survivors that were attending the event. When we stopped at the second restaurant I went to pay the remaining total on the bill after discount and what do you know... it was $12.12. For those readers new to this blog who don't know the significance of this number, when Anna was diagnosed with cancer in high school her family friend started a modern day prayer chain, 1 Million Prayers, in an effort to try and get 1 million people to pray for Anna everyday. We were asked to pray at 12:12, in honor of her favorite bible verse Romans 12:12. After losing Anna, 12:12 has always been my little reminder that she is still with me, so when I saw the total of the bill, I was obviously brought to tears instantly in Buca Di Beppo. I had been so wrapped up in the stress of the event and nervousness of me speaking that I had lost sight in why I was doing this to begin with. Leave it to Anna to put it all back into perspective to me. It was exactly what I needed at that moment and it gave me strength to get through the rest of my night. I have an amazing guardian angel looking out for me, and I know she was with me in that moment and that she was giving me strength as I struggled through my speech.

At my next pick up location, my sister surprised me. Not only my older sister Kaitie who lives in the area and who I knew would be at the event, but my older sister Alyson who came from out of town just to be there with me. This time crying in Panera, I realized that not only do I have the support of the angels above me, but I have THE most incredible support system right here with me. I am so blessed to have family that will literally drop everything they are doing to be with me because they knew I was struggling with the day.

In the end, my speech didn't go as smoothly as I dreamed it would, but I got through it. I cried in front of a crowded gymnasium like I hoped I wouldn't, but through the tears I was able to see 500 new people who were touched by my, Anna's, Megan's, Jane's, our story. We raised over $40,000 for cancer research that night. I cheered as our survivors took the first lap of the night. I listened as our other speakers talked about their stories, and for the first time since getting involved with Relay For Life instead of feeling a pang of jealousy when people talked about their loved ones beating cancer, I was genuinely able to feel happy for them. The selfish side of me had always longed for their happy ending before, this year I realized I had found my own happy ending.

I still miss Anna, every day. My heart still hurts for Kyle who lost his mom, and my classmates who lost Anna and Arie. I still hate cancer with every fiber of my being. But this year, Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society helped me to see the bigger picture. This year I not only faced my fear of public speaking and talking about myself, but I also faced the fear I have of this disease. Anna, Arie, Jane, and so many others have been taken from this world too soon. But there are SO many of us still here, committed to fighting, and I got to spend all year seeing this on a daily basis. I stood in front of that gymnasium and I talked about how cancer had changed my life and I committed to fighting until it stops changing people's lives, until people don't have to hear the words "you have cancer" anymore. So I faced my fears in more ways than one, I was comforted and surrounded by the most amazing support system in the world, and the hope I felt last Saturday is enough to get me through another day because deep down I know that this all isn't for nothing. This loss, this pain, this struggle....its all leading up to something much greater, and that's finally enough for me.

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