Monday, December 04, 2006

October 27-29: LiveSTRONG Summit, Austin, TX

I have always been a Lance Armstrong Foundation supporter, from the beginning. I started as a "Lance Armstrong Fan" first and formost. I was inspired, like many fellow cyclists, by his story and thought that it was great that he had the courage to continue to help other Cancer survivors even after he was cancer-free. When I suddenly found myself in the role of "Cancer Survivor", I struggled with how much I was going to let that be a part of my life. Don't misunderstand, once you are diagnosed with Cancer, it never leaves your life, but you have the choice to deal with it and then, if you are lucky enought to survive, put it away OR you can choose to share your story, reach out to others and find a away to make a difference. There is no right or wrong choice because it is a personal choice based on your life, life style and desires.

Since I had already done so much by blogging about my day-to-day struggles while in treatment, I was pretty sure that I would continue the commitment beyond the day that I got my first "all clear" scans. Still, I wasn't really clear on how I was going to make a difference. With your help, I raised money for the LAF through the LiveSTRONG Challenge but I didn't consder that too much of a "challenge" it was more of a matter of "proving to myself" that I could continue to be athletic and raising some money for a great charity while I did it. I have had experience raising funds for other charitable causes and I knew what was possible, it was easy make that commitment of myself.

Choosing to apply to be a Delegate for the Innagural LiveSTRONG Summit was a much harder decision. I was stepping outside of my comfort zones. I was, even by applying, telling the Lance Armstrong Foundation, that I was a survivor who wanted my voice heard, who wanted to share my story and who wanted to do something more than just survive.

I had a big idea on how I could make a difference in the lives of other Cancer patients and Survivors. An idea that scares me most days because I know it is a good one. You can't sit on ideas like those .... they gnaw away at your conscience ... and I knew that putting this idea aside would fly in the face of my own determined effort to "Live STRONG". So I applied to the Summit, knowing it could be an opportunity to share my story and maybe let me establish some good contacts who could help me get my project off the ground while finding some inspiration. I got all of that and so much more.

I arrived in Austin, TX on Friday afternoon after a "sprint" down the Dallas/Ft Worth "C" terminal (30 gates) since my flight from DC was 20 minutes delayed. It was like living the scene in a movie. I ran down the terminal with my boarding pass waving in the air and as I got on the plane, they literally shut the door behind me. The only negative was that my left calf gave me a little "twinge of protest" by way of a cramp that left me limping once we got to Austin.

Once at the Airport, I met up with Cindi H. and we sat and talked and waited for more CCC folks to get into town. Around 2PM, with "the other Steve B", we got on the "last bus" that would get us to registration before opening ceremonies. We met "Mitch" (aka Dave Mitchell) on the bus and Dave and Steve convinced the bus to wait a few more minutes and Keli Ann and a few more Live STRONG delegates were able to make it on the bus!

Opening Ceremonies were outstanding! First up was Dr. Antonia Novella, the first female and first Hispanic U.S. Surgeon General, who spoke on "The Power of Cancer Survivors as Advocates. Following her inspiring words, Jim Collins, author of the best-seller "Good to Great," ended the afternoon session. Both speakers were really passionate and provided a lot of thought provoking ideas.

After the opening ceremonies, our CCC gang scrambled to get enough tickets for the CNN event, I picked up my luggage and we all walked toward the hotels together. Cindi and I checked into our room at the Hilton, changed and headed back to the Convention Center. My plan was to meet a my friend Melanie and her boyfriend Dave for dinner since I was in Texas but we didn't plan to meet until later in the evening after 8PM or so.

After bidding the group "Have Fun!", I headed down to the Congress Bridge with the hopes of catching the nightly "Flight of the Bats." I spent about 30 minutes chatting on the phone with my boyfriend Jim, who searched the internet to give me an approximate time for sunset while I sat in the park enjoying the Austin vibe.

There ended up being quite a crowd at the "Bat Bridge" and it was well worth the wait to see all those bats head out for the night on their search for food. Watching the bats look for food made my stomach grumble so I wandered up toward 6th Street to check out the available options. I stopped into a corner deli and grabbed a half sandwich and a drink since my last meal had been breakfast at 8AM.

Around 9PM, Melanie and Dave called to say they were nearly to the Hilton and we met up and headed out to dinner. We ate at the Magnolia Café, a cool diner, and the Vegi Tacos were outstanding!

Melanie and Holly ~ 20 years of frienship!

Around 10:45, Mel and Dave dropped me off at the Hilton and I checked my voicemail to see where the CCC gang was. I had a message from Mitch saying to stop by ThreadGill's for a drink. I called to make sure they were still there and Cindi told me that they were already paying the tab, while in the background I heard some CCC voices yelling "Is that Holly from Hooters?"

I walked towards ThreadGill's and met Cindy and Mitch on the Congress "Bat" Bridge and we walked back to the hotel together. Whereupon Cindi and I settled in for the night. I took responsibility for setting the alarm for the morning...

SATURDAY, October 28th:

So at 6:15 the next morning, my watch alarm went off. Of course, I had forgotten that I did not set my watch back an hour to Central Time .. So it was actually 5:15AM. Good thing Cindi is a morning person!

I want to say something about Cindi H. She is the most energetic person I have EVER MET! She was bouncing on my bed, singing "Good Morning" and then when she came out of the shower, she sang me a song that she made up in the shower, to the tune of "I want Candy" called "I had Cancer". Needless to say, that song was in my head the rest of the day.

Cindi and I headed to breakfast with a quick stop by the Cyber Café where we discovered that Cindi had already made the "Summit Blog" in her CCC hat.
We share breakfast with 3 other survivors, a Beast Cancer survivor/Triathlete originally from New Zealand, A Chemo Nurse/Breast Cancer Survivor from Florida and a Leukemia Survivor from the midwest.

For the duration of the Summit, I sat at Table 34 with a great bunch of folks. Carol, Kevin, Beth, Valerie, Joan and Jaun. We had a good mix. 3 of us were survivors and 4 of group were caregivers so we has perspectives from both sides of the cancer experience.

The speakers on Saturday were excellent and I think really helped me focus on being open and willing to think outside of the box. We spent the morning answering two questions:

1. What, from diagnosis to today, stands out as the biggest issue in terms of *your* cancer experience?

2. If you could change anything that would make your experience better what would it be?

Everybody at the table was honest, forthcoming and I felt we all listened well. We tried to keep to the topics at hand and asked good questions. The results that came back from the room, as a whole, were very telling and seemed to directly reflect the actual conversations at our table.

We took a lunch break and after lunch, the LAF database gurus has compiled the results into 10 "Unmet" Issues. The afternoon session was spent discussing two of the "Unmet" issues and brainstorming solutions the answers. There were some incredible ideas that came out of these sessions and to see even one or two of them really come to fruition on a national scale would be outstanding. I came away from those session really believing that, on the whole, the summit did some fantastic work.

The afternoon speakers were all Summit participants who had already started programs of their own. We had five speakers who share their programs, Genne' McDonald, Tamika Felder, Richard Nares and Susan Shinagawa. They shared their programs, the obstacles they face and the progress and achievement they had made.

In particular, I was able to get a lot of good information from Genne McDonald's Team Survivor program that would help me with my own personal action plan and I made a contact with Tamika Felder from here in DC. I offered my Graphic Design services to Tamika as she works with her non-profit foundation this year on putting on a 4K walk in the area. I'm looking forward to being able to help her out.

We wrapped up the day's work with a great Drum Café experience. LAF had brought in a Drumming Group who preformed and coached up into a big Summit Drum Jam Session. It was a physical, tangible example of "Unity is Strength" and a whole heck of a lot of fun!

Dinner that evening was at the Austin Music Center. The CCC folks were spread out amongst 3 tables. The main table being front and center for the evening entertainment. They sang to the Mariachi Band and cheered the various dancers on. It was a great way to enjoy some good TexMex and a drink.

After dinner with Keli Ann (L) and Cindi (R)

After dinner the group split between two Piano Bars. I spend the night with Keli Ann, Cindi, Tom, Brenan, Steve and Greg (or was it Gary? I hate that I can't remember!). First we headed to Six, a bar part-owned by Lance, where we all had a drink and Tom and Keli Ann bought "Six" cycling jerseys. Then Cindi headed back to the room to sleep before her very early wake up, Steve left for a solo stroll along 6th Street and the five of us went to the Ivory Cat Piano Bar to listen to some music and watch the Halloween Nightlife stroll by. We enjoyed a few songs, Keli Ann and I had a shot (a "Nuts & Berrys" for her and a "Dirty GirlScout" for me) and eventually we all left the bar to "people watch" on 6th Street. We had a very fun time pointing people out and "oogling" the costumes. Too soon though, I headed back to the Hilton to get some sleep since I planned an early morning run with Mitch.

By far, the best costume on 6th Street in Austin that weekend ...

SUNDAY, October 29th:

Sunday morning, 630AM, Mitch and I met for our 1 hour run along Austin's Town Lake Trail. It was great to spend time with Mitch, we really got a chance to talk about my personal action plan, which he offered to help with before we had even gotten to Austin and we got a chance to share some stories about each others families and how we connected with CCC.

The only downside of the run was my calf. It seems that I pulled it a little more than I realized running between gates on Friday and just about 2 miles into the run, my calf decided to let me know that it was "NOT" running today. I felt a little "pop" along with quite a sharp pain and Mitch and I slowed the run down to a walk back to the hotel. Mitch gave me some great running tips, which I plan to implement as soon as my calf has healed. It was wonderful being able to spend an hour getting to know each other and enjoying the beautiful early morning weather.

Since Cindi had left at 430AM, I was on my own for breakfast after I checked out of the Hilton. I grabbed a muffin and some fruit, checked my email and headed back to Table 34 for the final session.

The speakers on Sunday were outstanding. Steve Case, John Kerry and Elizabeth Edwards all spoke from the heart and I really enjoyed their candor, honesty and drew a lot of inspiration from their talks.

Then it was time to work out our own personal action plans and I started to flesh out the plans for my program "Chemo to 5K" which Mitch and I are going to try to get started both in Pittsburg, PA and Washington, DC this spring. I'll tell you more about that in a later email.

Soon enough the morning session and the Summit was coming to a close. Angela and Jerry Kelly were awarded the Live STRONG Award and even though I have not had a chance to meet them in person, I had to tell you that I was so proud to know that they were part of the CCC community.

They ended the Summit with Wide Awake performing the song "LiveSTRONG" live. Up until then, I had done a pretty good job of keeping the tears in check. I teared up once or twice throughout the weekend but when that song started, forget about it... I was a mess of tears. It felt good so I just went with it!

Then the event was over and Keli Ann and I rode the bus to the airport together where I played "Run Around and be Unfocused" while I tried to get the new ticket for the later flight that American Airlines put me on because my connecting flight to Dallas had been cancelled. Keli Ann was a total doll, she stayed with me until I got it all figured out and help a few other confused summit people as well and then she and I grabbed some TexMex and I walked her to her gate where we stood and chatted with other summit folks until she boarded her flight. Then I walked to my gate, talked at length with Sara from Chicago (who also attended the summit) until we boarded the plane for the long ride home.

5 hours later (one layover of an hour in Chicago) I was back in my house, kitten's in my lap, purring and chattering and happy to see me.

On the whole, the event was fantastic and I feel really energized and empowered to work on my personal action plan. I also came away with a lot less "fear" about really stepping up and doing something more involved than some personal fundraising and I see that as an unexpected plus on a personal level! On a National level, I am really excited to see what LAF can do with some of the UNMET NEEDS that we identified, with our help, of course.

Holly reminding you that "Attitude is Everything!"


TriFeist said...

Yeah!!! What a cool experience for you. The needs have been identified. Now it's time to act.

Good luck with your action plan. Let me know if you need help.

runr53 said...

Glad the summit went well. I'd like to get your ideas on fund raising for the 3 Day. Can I email you?

mellen said...

I will be very excited to hear about the chemo to 5K. I am through my 2nd around (6 more to go) and that's sounds like just about what I will need in the future. I am so glad you had such a great experience.