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In Montana, you find out who the important people in your life are.  Who you miss, who you call first when you have limited cell reception or charge on your phone, who is waiting for you to come home.

I spent the day unwinding and hanging out with my mom and my good friend Andrew. Someone once told me that you’ll never wish you worked more, but you’ll never have enough time with the people you love.  I know I wished I could live in Montana forever, but there’s a reason the East feels like home.

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6:30 am wakeup. Yoga, tea, and off to Dana Farber for two routine appointments.  It wasn’t enough sleep.  Then, an hour at the farmer’s market, 99 degrees outside.  Then, skipping lunch.  Then, staying out with friends.  I fell back into pushing limits, far past the pace of life I enjoyed in Montana, and the results weren’t great.  I was hungry and exhausted and dehydrated and displeased. And so now, I will stop writing, because I have reached my limits.

Today I woke up an hour and 45 minutes before work.  I had tea, did ten minutes of yoga, read some blogs (I’m resisting having a Feedly Reader account with hundreds of blogs – I’ll only subscribe to a handful).  Work was calm, but I need something to make it lively again (hoping time will provide the answers).  After work, I went to the gym for a surprisingly intense aqua aerobics session, and decided to picnic alone for dinner, all thoughts quieted.

The city life wants to agitate me. Since coming back, there have been things that make me angry–I tried not to freak when my internship threw out everything at my old desk, I try to let unsavory memories flit by in my mind without settling. I wanted to rush home after work and throw myself into my real life, because work doesn’t really feel like a part of who I am, but I let my three hours of downtime be just that.  I have errands, goals, plans, but I let the day pass by, and nothing is the worse for it.

Ten days of technological isolation in Montana taught me that the things that are most important will be done.  If I want to do it or vitally need to do it, I will do it.  The lists of errands and goals and plans are just thoughts that I’ve given undue importance, thoughts that fight for that importance amidst the clutter of the endless lists.  Over the next few weeks I’m going to purge myself of all my various to-do lists.  I sort of worry about what I’ll do with all of the emptiness, all of the thoughts, how I’ll parse out legitimate story ideas from the distracting scraps of memory. Guessing time will tell.

[This post is wholly unsatisfying to me, but I need to be up early for Dana Farber appointments.  Practicing self-compassion…]

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend First Descents, a whitewater kayaking program for cancer survivors.  I promised to share my story on the blog, to explain to the world what a motivating and intense experience it was. But I never did.  I jumped back into life in Cambridge and hardly looked back.  It was amazing, but far too soon I forgot to remember the sound of Native American flute played by our kayak guide, the quiet of the North Carolinian temperate rainforest, the struggles and successes of my peers.

But I knew I loved it and I knew I had pushed myself, and this year I needed a push more than ever.  Since graduation in December, I tumbled through the loss of a father figure, the solitude and stresses of living alone, the medical regimens of fertility treatment, the beginning of three new jobs, an unhealthy personal relationship, a second apartment hunt and move.  For months, I had begged for a reset button. I spent far too much time on things I didn’t care about and with people who didn’t care about me.  I wanted time outside, time to read and write, a clear mind to connect with people, the confidence and calm to really enjoy being alone.

I chose to go to Montana because I had no other reason to. At first I thought it bleak, but I think the negative urban space only heightens the beauty and peace of the place. Over ten days, I grew into a world that I didn’t want to leave, a world with stars and huckleberries and wildflowers,  a world where I have no to-do lists, a world where I–quite shockingly–am the quiet one.

I have come home because, to some extent, that world was fleeting.  First Descents is a week long, and I extended the journey with two FD friends. A world without work, a world with homecooked meals that magically appear, a world where you can count on anyone to save you, a world where everyone’s job is to motivate you can only last so long.

The beauty of First Descents is the culture of self-improvement and staying connected.  To attend more camps, I’ll have to complete a physical challenge and raise money for the organization; to keep the spirit alive, I’ll work towards that challenge and hopefully plan some meetups with FD friends.  Part of me wants nothing more than to return to Montana in the next few years.  Part of me wonders whether some of that magic will have faded if I return without my FD comrades, if my world isn’t there when I return.  But the quiet, remote wilderness and the river will still be there.

I can hardly do justice to the trip in one evening, so for the next year, I want to remember Montana.  Hopefully not in the mourning, can’t-let-go sort of way, but rather in the hold-it-close, take-it-and-run-with-it sort of way.  I want the quiet serenity here, I want the happy, authentic in-person interactions, I want the adventure and the physical challenge and the waking up without an alarm and the living without a watch. I want out from email.

I haven’t decided the specifics of my FD challenge for this year, but I want a culture shift.  I know my weaknesses too well to take on too much at once. Eventually, I want to live a life where every day starts with yoga and meditative tea, where I get to write everyday–doing what I really want to be doing–yet not feel tied to my computer.  I want to spend more time with the people I care about. I want to stop making to-do lists.  I want to spend at least ten days on the water and go on five trips. (First Descents also helped me with my fear of flying.)  I want to actually sustain the FD community by planning trips with friends and giving back.

I want to revive this blog to track my progress, to grow into these changes rather than announce a big goal and falter under the pressure.  I know I want to run a 10K, possibly as my official FD challenge–the fact that this now isn’t considered a big deal to me says a LOT about how much FD changed my exercise habits and proved to me that I can overcome all the lung damage I had.  But I also want to challenge myself to change my daily routine, and I’m hoping some public documentation will keep me honest.  Maybe it will even inspire someone else to make a change, or bring a little bit of Montana into someone’s heart.

Most of the blog posts won’t be long–perhaps just a Montana memory that I meditate on that day, a chill song, a poem or piece of writing, or a lesson that I learned.  I’m hoping that when I look back a year from now, I won’t be begging for a reset button, but instead thanking my Montana stars that I got the push I needed.

I was interviewed briefly for an article on egg freezing, partially because I wanted readers to see that it has legitimate medical justification for some people and isn’t just a celebrity fad.

Celebs Freeze Eggs While Careers are Hot

Stress and Health

My mom and my grandma have always liked to come up with reasons behind my cancer diagnosis. “Your dorm was really dirty, there were a lot of germs.” “You were sick for a few years, I could tell ever since you had that shoulder problem in high school.” “You were under a lot of stress.”

I’ve always been skeptical of these rationales, though I know they mean well.  But recently, Men’s Health reported a link between stress and inflammation – since Hodgkin’s lymphoma is caused by an immune system gone haywire, I really am starting to think that stress may be a factor in cancer.  Sometimes, I get so stressed that I feel just as unwell as when I was sick, and I’m convinced the cancer has returned.  I feel like that says a lot.

Goal Updates

In December 2011, I started a Life List to motivate my growth post-treatment and inspire me to keep moving forward.  The two major offshoots were my 200-cheese-adventure and my Bostonian restaurant quest.  I’ve been updating these pages regularly in the past year, but I haven’t bumped the posts.  Check out the links to hear about my adventures.