I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve wondered, silently or aloud, “What did I do to deserve this?” since I was diagnosed with cancer over 2.5 years ago. But every once in a while I’ve said it for a good reason and recently I got to say it for the best reason ever. Many who know me are familiar with my love affair with First Descents, a non-profit that supports young adults with cancer with free week-long outdoor adventures. I went rock climbing with them in 2013 and the experience completely and utterly changed my life. (I won’t keep gushing, although I could, because I don’t want to spoil the video below.) Since my trip I’ve had the privilege of contributing to First Descents’ blog, helping to lead the DC-Baltimore First Descents group and this summer I’m signed up to be a volunteer photographer on a rock climbing trip to Estes Park!
So when I got a call from my favorite FD staff letting me know that they’d selected me as the #OutLivingIt Award recipient for the ball this year I was beyond excited. This ball is their main fundraiser every year and it’s always such a beautiful occasion, full of inspiration, and a wonderful reminder of the importance of really embracing life, which is what FD, and their motto,”Out Living It,” are all about.
My job, as the award recipient was to tell my story. Following in the footsteps of Big Red, my dear friend and the previous year’s winner, I decided to tell my whole story with all its prickly thorns and vulnerable messes. It was scary but it felt right. I think in many ways we all ache for real stories, for human accounts that remind us that our suffering, our pain is the same as everyone else’s. I tried to push the boundaries of my own battles with vulnerability with this speech while also telling the truth about how exquisitely beautiful this one life can be. I hope I did the prickly thorns and the exquisite beauty some justice.
So here it is, for your viewing pleasure, whenever you have roughly 20 minutes to spare. After this speech I must have spoken with at least 100 people, each one with their own story. I heard from many other cancer survivors and fighters, from doctors, from people who had lost friends and family to cancer. It was an incredible honor. I recently heard a Jim Carey quote in which he said, “I did something that made people present their best selves to me…” and that is exactly how I felt. People were touched, they were raw, they were crying, they were honest, they were hopeful, they were grateful, they were kind, they were gracious, they were really real. I can’t totally explain what happened but it felt like magic to tell my story and get to hear so many in return… to get to see the best of so many people.
So now that I’ve conquered one big, vulnerable, scary thing I decided it’s time to move on to the next one. Life is short so you can’t wait for tomorrow to take chances, I suppose. I’ve finally decided to do what so many of you have suggested I do and I am going to write a book. I’m going to write a book and it’s going to be published in three months. I know, it sounds completely insane but it’s happening. I have a publishing company and a whole program all lined up, all the deadlines in place and I begin writing…now!
In many ways the book will be the long, written form of this speech, except instead of just my story it will also include a guide. It will be an instruction manual for those who have been beat down and broken open by a crisis, the way I was, for anyone who has ever felt like they are losing hold of what makes life meaningful or gives them purpose. I want to share all the research, all the work, all the blood, sweat and literal tears I’ve put into searching for the things that make life, not just meaningful, but downright breathtaking. My sincerest hope is that someday, someone who has been to hell and back like I have, will pick up this book and find some inspiration in its pages and they will find a way to live a fuller, richer life as a result. And since my goal is always to support my fellow young adult cancer fighters a portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to my favorite young adult cancer groups, including First Descents.
As with everything over the last two years I know that this too shall take a village. I’ll be launching a Kickstarter in the coming months to help get this puppy published and out into the hands of as many people as possible. And I’ve already thought up some awesome Kickstarter rewards that I am super excited to share with you! I’ll also needs folks to read and review and get the word out early. There will obviously be many, many more details to come! If you want to stay on top of everything you can sign up HERE to get updates on the Kickstarter and the book’s release!
In closing, I am about to swim deep into the depths of some vulnerability I have not yet imagined and while it is terrifying it is also exhilarating. I know for certain that there is no way I could do this without a community as supportive and encouraging as you have all always been. So thank you for your love, your light and your endless high fives. Love, love, love you all!