July began and ended with Nick’s Fight to be Healed events, was packed with writing goals, creating space deadlines, and lots of family fun.
I had so much on my plate. The biggest deadline was getting my Saving Atlantis manuscript done. I had to push back the date and I wasn’t happy about it.
It feels like the July 4th parade had happened months ago. I think it had to do with being very present in most everything I did. I didn’t hand out candy. I watched the teens hand it out and took note of the children’s happy faces.
The best part of July was all the gatherings with my family and friends.
My nephew and his wife drove through and stopped by, so of course a big gathering happened. Family always gathers for the July 4th festivities, and I felt the love and connections.
Good news came for one of our Melodies families. Regan received her last spinal treatment and will be done in September! Karen captured the moment.
I finished Saving Atlantis and got it to the printer and now will wait for the final product! That was probably my biggest stressor. It’s a positive one to have, but the need to get it right adds a lot of pressure on me.
One of my most thrilling moments of July was Stephen getting his motorcycle license and riding with his dad and myself. He has jumped in with both feet and absolutely loves it. He is holding Liam, who will be riding next to him some day.
The month ended with a beautiful fundraiser to honor my son Nick during the 11th Annual pig roast that our wonderful friends hold every year.
In between the foundation events, family moments, finishing a book, and creating space in my house, which I noted in separate posts, I still managed to journal and enjoy the world around me.
For August I will keep: connecting with people who lift me up and break down my goals into accessible parts.
I will stop: booking myself out for so many nights and day appointments and putting so much on my plate.
I will start: reserving Fridays for cleaning and organizing my office and catching up on reading.
It was a fantastic month, and I’m grateful I captured so much of it to remember.
October. It’s a month of oxymorons, contradictions, and irony. The most joyous month of my life for so many reasons, yet the most devastating as well. It’s a month of transition and fun traditions as we welcome in the fall, but those traditions now are hard to handle. It’s a month of beginnings and endings, happiness and tears, hope and disappointment.
For the past 9 years, it’s been a month to just get through where it used to be a month of excitement and family gatherings.
When I teach the different types of journaling, one of the most powerful is journaling to heal. Writing has most certainly saved me from despair and has served as a friend when I couldn’t find my voice, but my hand could hold a pen.
I have been fighting a nasty head cold for five days, and today, my husband, Luke, encouraged me to go for a ride. Not trusting myself on my motorcycle, I rode on the back of his. It was a beautiful fall day. The kind of day that opens the sky to heaven. I held onto the moment and thought how thankful I was to be there with him. To have a husband who knows what I need, even when I don’t.
I felt a great deal of gratitude for this man, who sometimes seems like an extended part of me. So many times we act as one, and it makes me smile.
So for the month of October, I’m going to share my gratitude journal. It’s not something I have really done, but I have always believed that even in the midst of the most horrid tragedy, there is always hope. There is always that spark of love, light, and possibility.
Today, Luke is that light for me. He has held me up when I couldn’t fathom going any farther. He pulled me out of the dark when I couldn’t see the way forward. When we lost our son, Nick, 9 years ago to cancer, after weeks of being lost, we decided to start Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation. Luke told me to do what I needed to do. Give this foundation my heart, and he would stand beside me. That is what I did. I had no idea how the foundation would grow and how many people it would help. It has been hard for us doing the work, but nothing powerful ever happened without working hard.
Today I am grateful for Lucas, my husband of 26 years, who ironically is my polar opposite, but balances me perfectly.
Begin your month of gratitude by writing about what you are grateful for today and why. If it is someone in your life, let them know.
It was November 2010 and I was at a book signing at the Chronicle Book Fair in Queensbury. Part of my book sales are donated to the foundation so I always have brochures on hand. A woman from a used book store came over and asked if I was having a fundraiser for Nick Heald. I asked who he was and she explained that he was a senior from South Glens Falls who had cancer. I explained that Nick was my son and his Caring Bridge site was NickHealed. The connection sparked. She told me about the South Glens Falls Marathon Dance run by local kids at that high school. They raise money and donate the funds to local charities or people who really needed it. My interest was piqued.
The idea of this book wasn’t quite formulated at that point. When I was sure I wanted to write it, I asked Natalie Mahler, the Child Life Specialist at The Melodies Center for recommendations of teens fighting cancer who also were involved in giving back. I received an email from Nick’s mom, Amy Gurdo, that Nick had just finished his final round of chemo. Amy had picked up the foundation’s brochure and saw the Fight to be Healed slogan and my Nick’s name. Plus Nick’s dad Chad had heard about Nick’s Fight to be Healed on the radio and wondered what Nick’s mom was up to now. The connection flourished.
These are the first two paragraphs of Nick Heald’s chapter in my book, What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer. There were so many connections between the two Nicks and this strongly knit family who would go to great lengths to heal their Nick.
For seven years Nick Heald fought against an enemy that threatened to keep him from the life he wanted to live. I say threatened, because if there is one thing I learned about Nick was that he is the most resilient and determined person I have ever met.
Every time Nick relapsed my heart sank. I worried. I fretted. When was this young man going to get a break? I’m sure Nick worried too, but he didn’t let it stop him. He went to college. He graduated. He got a great job, and he lived his life with passion, understanding that tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed. He married the love of his life.
Maybe that was the key. Nick knew he had to live in the moment, and he wasn’t going to waste any time being bothered by what he couldn’t control. He threw himself into what he loved and was passionate about.
From what I have seen, he was most passionate about his wife, Courtney. Although it never is enough, they lived a lifetime together. Theirs is the ultimate love story, connecting in high school and living through what some older married couples wouldn’t have been able to handle. They lived in the moment, and my heart grew every time I saw them together, loving unconditionally, being who they are right at that moment.
In my book, Nick’s Mom said, “Be in the moment. If you’re not, you are going to miss something good.”
Nick and his family and friends did that. They lived each moment like it was the the most precious moment they would ever have. That is how we should all live. Right now.
Nick, you have changed the world for the better. You have left a legacy of resiliency, true love, and the power of family. Thank you for sharing your joy and passion for life. You helped me when I was missing my boy. You will be missed terribly. I will be there for your mom and your family as you were there for me.
My life in volunteering started in middle school when I walked to my neighbors’ houses and asked them to buy a magazine for my school. This was a huge feat, since we only had a few houses on our road, and I basically needed a car to get anywhere else. Being a competitive person (nothing has changed), I convinced my mother to drive me around, ask friends, and basically harass everyone I knew so I could get the big prize. I don’t even remember what the prize was, but at the time that is what volunteering meant to me.
Fast forward 15 years or so and again I was encouraging people, but not to buy something, rather to walk for a cause. I really can’t remember if it was for the MS society or March of Dimes, but it was through my job and before I had children. At one point my parents, siblings, and some of their kids were involved. One time we met up at the Empire Plaza and made a whole day of walking around Albany for a good cause. It took almost all day, because in our enjoyment of the walk, we missed the turn and had to backtrack and find the route once again! It was all in fun and money was raised. We didn’t see where it was going, but we felt we made a difference or at least I did. Plus being together and having a good time mattered.
When I was 7 months pregnant with Nick, I helped begin the Friends of the Library in Clifton Park and served on the board in different capacities for the next 12 years.
It was important to me that my children learned to give back. Every year through our karate school, I would arrange for the kids and some adults to pack baskets for the elderly for Thanksgiving. Then we would go to a local apartment and pass the baskets out. This level of volunteering created a more personal and hands-on approach, where they could see and feel the impact they could have on another person. They may not have completely understood what they were doing or why people needed help, but they had a good feeling and that was a start.
I continued to raise money for larger charities and combined my love of cycling with supporting the American Diabetes Association. I started with the 25 mile route, then Nick rode 10 miles once year. Then it grew until I had ridden, quite painfully, for 100 miles to raise money for a cause that personally affected my family. So there was that connection. Raising money and pushing myself for something I was emotionally connected to. I didn’t get back on my bike for a year after that century ride, but eventually I dragged my friends into it and continued for a couple more years after that riding 25 or 50 miles. It was that sense of a challenge and the camaraderie of riding with hundreds of other people and pushing one another when the ride became difficult.
Why do we give back? Sometimes, like when we are kids, we are forced to do it until we mature enough to understand the meaning behind it. But what has it been about giving back that has kept me involved in some form of volunteering my entire life?
The answer became quite clear when my son, Nick, was diagnosed with leukemia, and we lost him at the tender age of 13. All my years of fighting for a cause I could relate to suddenly exploded into a mission toward something I never wanted anyone else to have to face. So when I think about what I stand for, I think about my son’s life being cut short and all the potential lost with him. I think about all the children and their siblings who struggle with a cancer diagnosis and how devastated family, friends, and those who tried to save them are after a child dies.
I see firsthand the positive benefits of what giving selflessly can do for others. It’s more than selling magazines to win a prize. Now the stakes have been raised to give people a better chance to live fulfilling lives, to have hope when they think all has been lost, and to feel empathy even though each situation is different.
I believe in the power of volunteering. I believe that giving back makes us better human beings. It’s a way to show love to those who are suffering and to connect to the essence of who we are and why we are here.
Should everyone volunteer? I think so, but for the right reasons. Right now I volunteer and run a foundation that is connected to my heart and soul. It’s a part of who I am. I’d love to do other work like help in a soup kitchen, make dinner at Ronald McDonald House Charities, help Make-a-Wish, and join Literacy Volunteers again. But helping kids fight cancer is what I stand for.
What do you stand for? What are you emotionally connected to? Which organizations do you donate money to? It’s an important part of helping our foundations, but imagine if you could help someone face to face? What could it do for them? How would that make you feel? Do you want volunteering in your life and why?
When you figure out what you stand for, perhaps you will try giving back. Giving a little opens your heart and heals both you and those you have reached out to.