8 years ago I was flying high. I had just completed a year long project to travel to one state each week for the 52 weeks of 2009 and to find and share the stories of ordinary people solving problems in their communities. I felt like we were at a turning point in our society. The economy was in shambles and people around me were feeling defeated. I wanted to give some control back to the people and I believed that by sharing the stories of these ordinary people doing extraordinary things that I could motivate people and show them that no matter what they looked like, what they sounded like, how much money or education they had that they could take charge and be the ones to solve the problems they and their communities were facing.
It was the hardest year of my life. I had no major funder. I was a single mom. I was on my own with only the help of a hard working, single parent boyfriend to keep me going. Towards the end of my 50 in 52 Journey the most amazing thing happened. My story was featured on the cover of the Denver Post, by noon that day I had a call from CBS, by early December I had a CBS Sunday Morning crew following me on one of my last trips of the year to Arizona. It was out of a dream. Jan 3, 2010 CBS Sunday morning ran the piece and my phone and email began to ring off the hook, crashing my website servers along the way.
Everything was going great. And then I found a lump in my breast. My doctor found another lump in my other breast. Before I knew it I had to decide to keep the breasts and wait while those lumps, or others, turned cancerous, or to be proactive. I opted for proactive feeling I’d dodged a major bullet. I loved my breasts and all they had done for me and my children so it was a sad parting but I wasn’t about to wait for cancer to take hold.
A few years later, after holding on to my ovaries against medical advice because I really wanted to have a child with my amazing boyfriend who got me through the journey and was now my husband, I gave up those ovaries after our pregnancy ended with our son dying 20 weeks into his journey. We were devastated and I felt like the ovaries were a ticking time bomb just waiting to be hosts to cancer. After trying to conceive again and failing month after month we made the call and had the ovaries removed.
I felt like I was being responsible. I knew how incredibly high my risk was. I had so many things I wanted to accomplish in my life. I had this new amazing husband, the partner I’d dreamed about for my entire life was finally in my life. My children were growing and I didn’t want to miss a moment. I asked questions. I took tests. I consulted experts. We decided cancer would not be my demise and so out with the ovaries too.
I forged forward with my life thinking how could I continue to best empower my community? What would be next? How could I best be of service? The answer came to me in a moment of frustration in not being able to volunteer my way to a solution for my son, I needed to run for office.
Huge leap. Huge race. Tough seat. 2016. Wacky electoral politics year. But, like everything else, we researched, we asked questions, we talked to the community, and then my family and I leapt feet first into the fire and put my name out there for a position in the Colorado House of Representatives. It was so hard. But I was healthy in body, mind and spirit, and with my family and community behind me, we did it and I became elected to the Colorado House of Representatives.
My first year was a great challenge and the most stimulating and vigorous experience of my life. I worked hard and passed into law 8 laws that serve and help our community from veterans to the differently abled to the economically insecure. It was tremendous.
And then I started not feeling well. At first it was a little discomfort, a loss of energy, and then I started to bleed. I had no more ovaries. I had not bled since they were removed. I was medically in menopause. I figured it would pass. A month went by, but it wasn’t until an infection developed that I called my doctor. After a series of tests I received the call no one wants to get. The call that starts with the doctor asking “Where are you?” I was in the airport with my husband. We’d taken a very short getaway to be with one another in relaxation before the legislative session and the non-stop movement that takes began.
My doctor continued “Your biopsy came back consistent with cancer.”
I was all of the sudden under water.
She was talking but I couldn’t quite make out the words.
Waves of anger washed through me.
I’d done everything I was told.
I’m vegan, I don’t eat meat.
I’d asked at the time they removed my ovaries about taking my uterus.
They said it wasn’t necessary.
And then I was sad, cancer?
Was I going to die?
I don’t have time to die.
I have so much left I need to do.
I imagine my experience is not unusual of one receiving such a phone call. As soon as I could breathe I started making phone calls from the middle of O’hare airport in Chicago. By the time we’d made it home to Colorado I had the name of the doctor I wanted to see, and by the next day an appointment, and 2 weeks later my uterus and the cancer along with it was evicted from my body. The cancer was only stage 1.
On Monday I begin the work of my second year of my first term in the Colorado Legislature. My body is still recovering, but my spirit is strong, and my knowledge that no matter how much I remove from my body I must remain vigilant and keep making good choices about food and start making better choices about exercise. I will not let cancer, or anything else keep me from doing the work I so desire to do. There are many in our community who need our help, who struggle to have access to the quality of life they would like to lead. There are children who suffer and struggle and we can help them. There are schools who need our advocacy for their very continued existence. There are youth entangled in the justice system who need real help to make the changes in their own lives to help them towards a productive future and so much more.
Every step I take towards a physically healthy me, every bite I eat to nourish my body and my soul, is for you, and for me, and for my family and community, because I’ve got so much more to do and cancer can kiss my…well, let’s just say “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”