Faith, Hope and a Marathon: The Ray Finegan Short Story

Ray and I met years ago. My husband and I were referred to Lynn and Ray when we decided to move and needed a real estate agent to list our house; they were our team. Ray and his wife Lynn and my husband Dave and I quickly turned into friends; who knew that our path in life would cross over in different ways.

Fast forward to November 2014, Ray and his wife were enjoying a vacation in Hawaii. Ray woke up and found blood on his pillow. Startled of course and not sure what the reasoning was, they sought out the best doctors they could find once arriving back to St. Louis. After a quick CT scan and biopsy, they realized that there was a mass on his tonsil. After further investigation, it was determined this mass was not benign; it was cancerous – “P-16” positive. They remembered hearing, “if you have cancer, this is the type to have.” Lynn recalls that moment vividly, she looked at Ray and said “No pity party here dear. I am by your side. We are a team.” Hearing those words “you have cancer” is awful. And that having any type of cancer is “the good kind to have”; they knew regardless, that together, they could beat this.

SitemanAnd from that moment on, Lynn was by Ray’s side… undergoing the treatment plans that included 10 arduous weeks of chemotherapy and 35 proton radiation treatments through Siteman Cancer Center. This was quite the daunting task to endure – as the treatments lasted for days, weeks and months well past the original diagnosis – occurring from late winter 2014 through spring of 2015, and through it all, Ray and Lynn persevered. Ray continued to work through all of this; he knew that he had to keep going and keeping life as normal as he could was what was best to get through this.

Ray
Teri Griege with Ray Finegan and Lynn Bodenheimer – March 2, 2015

PBH-Medal-horizontalI met up with Ray early during his treatment in March 2015. I presented him with the Powered by Hope – Medal of Hope and Coin-Side1Coin of Courage to hold onto during their journey. They told me that they thought they lost their coin once and were “completely devastated.” They searched and searched and eventually found it in their car; all peace was restored. It was amazing to hear how much the Coin of Courage truly meant to them; how it symbolized Hope and that for a few moments in time – they felt lost without it and that it made them whole again. He has never let go of it to this day; it goes everywhere with him. That is what I intended with the Coin of Courage; to always have a piece of Hope with you.

He shared the kindest words with me – how commendable I am and how I took what I have gone through, my challenges and put a positive spin on it. I am humbled. I don’t think about my challenges, I think about others first – this is what I was meant to do and my purpose. I was given this gift to inspire others and give hope. In turn, they do the same for me tenfold and I am deeply humbled by each and every personal experience. To me, this is the cycle of life and how there is a reason why we met long ago; we were meant to be in each others’ lives. We are more than friends – we have a bond that no one can replace. We share something very special and I am forever grateful to be part of their life.

Fast forward months later, it’s now September 2015 – life is getting back to a “new” normal for Ray and Lynn. He made it through treatment with flying colors, and is trying to get back to working without a doctor’s appointment every day. And he is back on his stationary bike almost every day – bringing back a fitness regime to his daily activities to restore the energy and health was taken from him months prior.

Ray and Lynn recall their experience…

“Everyone was unbelievably supportive. People were phenomenal. Family. Friends. The medical staff at Siteman. It was an unbelievable experience if anyone can understand that. He was extremely complimentary to the technicians – Matt, Shari, Paula, Nikki, Janette and Nurse Chris and Susan at the Proton Center at Barnes.”

Ray shared this sentiment and advice for others who are going through this…

“You have to have faith and hope. It is not sprint, it is a marathon.“

He continued to say…

“The Coin of Courage is a symbol of Hope. It goes everywhere with me every day. I hold on to the Coin of Courage and never let go of Hope.”

 

 

Outrunning Cancer: On the Track Every 2 Weeks

My dear friend and fellow cancer crony Rachel Lozano – who suffered from childhood cancer and still battles side effects to this day – coined the phrase “I play a healthy person really well.” And the fact of the matter is, she does. I do as well. I play a healthy person really well every day. For many, who are close family and friends – they often forget that I have cancer; that I fight for every day, that cancer is part of my life – I tend to make it look easy. Even complete strangers would have no idea I have cancer; I am a great at covering this up. However I also don’t tout this, I don’t focus on that. I focus on being healthy, happy and having a positive attitude – I look the part on the outside so it suits me well.

teri-standingMany of you may or may not know that since I don’t announce all of my health issues, that I have been undergoing maintenance chemotherapy treatment every 2 weeks for the last 6 years. If you do the rough math, I have sat in a chemotherapy chair at Siteman Cancer Center over 120 times since October 2009. It is quite astounding what my schedule looks like living with cancer, again, you’d have no idea unless I reminded you. This is where I visit – every 2 weeks – this supports my hope.

As you may recall, at the age of 48, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. After radiation, chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, today I am 54 and this is my way of life. Treatment may never have an end date. Fortunately, the doctors I have are amazing; they literally keep me going with medicine that is giving me hope and life. That is why research is my lifeline. It is the hope that someday they will find a cure and there will be a treatment plan where I will be able to complete the medicine and ring the bell.ChemoBelltoRing

I know that this journey for me is not a sprint; it is a marathon and a journey I have been on for 6 years. I train for marathons and I know that going the distance is what counts, to never give up, to persevere. I liken my chemotherapy to training for a marathon. I prepare to run – running shorts, t-shirt, shoes, glasses, a heart monitor, nutrition, water – you know the essentials for running. I hit a local high school track early on a Saturday morning. I start slow, build, and go steady. I often refer to this as slogging, as jogging seems like too fast of a term for what I do. Slow and steady, I will win this race, but for me the finish line is a moving target that I will continue to move (run) towards.

ChemoPod ExamTableI go out every two weeks to run the track of chemotherapy. I prepare my essentials for what I need to get through the chemotherapy – prepared for and enduring the race of getting IV treatments and medications in my body that act as runners to chase down and beat the cancer.

I know that the last 6 years of training every 2 weeks has not been easy; there have been lane changes and hurdles in my way that I have had to jump over. Some hurdles I have tripped over. I have had set backs, but I got back up – dusted myself off and kept going. There is no doubt that what I have put into training for real marathons is the same that I have put into running the biggest race of my life – with all of the blood, sweat, tears and determination I have in me.

Above all though, I have had hope; hope that I will get around each curve on the track, to make lane changes with grace and ease, and that I will make it down long stretches before something in my journey changes again. I know there will be the time of going the distance and making great strides in between – feeling free from heavy burdens – helping me to endure those abrupt and brief challenges –I have hope in knowing that I will persevere.

I have faith that the doctors are preparing me for these marathons, that they are the ones creating marathon miracles through innovative research and development. They are helping provide great strides towards living a longer, healthier and sustainable life. It is all because of them that I am able to run.

I have confidence that at any time when I start to slow down and don’t feel I can run anymore – I can visualize the stands surrounding the running track are filled with family, friends, loved ones – the Army – cheering and rooting me on to go the distance. It is all because of them – this is why I run.

I am powered by research. I am powered by amazing doctors and nurses. I am powered by treatment. I am powered by running. I am… Powered by Hope.

The Medal of Hope (and Magic)

HOPE. To me it stands for How Ordinary People Endure.

This meaning is intangible. It is not often easy to grasp. It seems ethereal. As humans, we often need something tangible to feel, touch and experience to know that it is real.

While my message and story lives on through my book – Powered by Hope – and my foundation through speaking engagements, I wanted to take this a step further and make my message of HOPE personal and yes, real. I was determined to finding a way to really impact the lives of those around me who are, who like myself, are fighting the biggest battle of our lives against Cancer.

PBH-Medal-horizontalCoin-Side1After much searching and self-reflection, it was so simple and clear. I used my own personal experience of training for my triathlons and receiving a medal at the end of the journey as a symbol of hope to share with for others.

I came up with a Medal of Hope and which led to a Coin of Courage. I believe in spreading HOPE to everyone who is dealing with Cancer. I knew that this would be rewarding, a privilege and very humbling; however I did not realize that something magical would happen to those who receive it and those presenting it.

Laura, a friend of Teri’s recalls the moment of a Medal of Hope presentation:

Teri and 10 of her close lady friends, who albeit are also cancer thrivers, surprised their dear friend Inga at her 82nd chemo treatment at a local treatment center (which also happened to land on her 40th birthday). Teri walked up to Inga and surprised her with the entire group of friends – “we are all here for you, we know what you are going through and you are not alone.”

Teri got down on her knees, held the Medal of Hope in her hands while presenting it to Inga on her lap; all the while, Inga in a recliner – hooked up to and receiving her IV chemo treatment.

Teri softly whispers to her – a symbol of hope and a reminder of your inner strength and personal resolve. You are never alone – may you always be Powered by Hope.”

To watch this take place is simply chilling; goose bumps are an understatement. There is not a dry eye in the group – as we all know, without saying, the impact of HOPE.

While Inga receives the Medal of Hope placed around her neck by Teri, the Coin of Courage is then passed by hand, one-by-one, around the circle of friends that envelop her, wishing her blessed thoughts, warm vibes and good health into the Coin. The Coin then ends in Inga’s hands – receiving a Medal of Hope for her race with Cancer and Coin of Courage to hold onto forever.

This is magic. The goose bumps. The overwhelming sense of being alive. The sense of being part of a cancer community. The knowing that you are not alone. The true feeling, both intangible and now tangible feeling, of Hope received.

Inga is just one of the many amazing individuals that I have been fortunate and blessed to be introduced to, meet and present Medals of Hope and Coins of Courage to and like Inga, is or has become dear friends as well.

Since creating the Medal of Hope and Coin of Courage about one year ago, it has been my journey to continue to spread that HOPE every week to someone who is fighting for their lives in the St. Louis area. Fortunately, and unfortunately though, it has gotten to be such a demand, that I have created the PBH ambassadors to present HOPE on behalf of the foundation. Together, we can spread even more HOPE and share that feeling of magic that only HOPE can bring to a fellow cancer thriver.

What it Means to be a Thriver

Brave. Courageous. Tough. Powerful. Strong. Amazing. Unbelievable. Hero.

These are just a few descriptive words we often hear as Cancer Thrivers. While these are amazing words to hear, we wish we didnt have to earn those sentiments by enduring cancer.

The word cancer is polarizing; it is a word that instantly instills fear as soon as you hear it. However, for those of us who have heard it, and have surpassed the shock and awe of the moment it was first told to us, it now no longer seems to have the bomb-dropping initial affect it once had. Sadly enough, the word cancer is now part of our daily vocabulary a household word.

Being diagnosed with cancer is a static moment in time. Understanding when you are a survivor seems to be subjective. I have often received mixed reviews from doctors, nurses and fellow cancer cronies when you are technically a survivor; when you can you use this term as your own. Ive been told you are a survivor when you first find your cancer, because you found it when you did or you are a survivor after you have had surgery or chemotherapy.

For some though, survivor is a term that fits and sticks. For others like me, Thriver seems more fitting. This is because for me cancer is a chronic disease. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer and it has reared its ugly head more than once in different ways (which cancer often does). There are many battles I have fought and I continue to win. There is a not a day that goes by that I dont think about cancer, fight with cancer, prepare for cancer. It is just part of my life now and forever will be.

I am thriving feeling fortunate to be alive.

I am thriving ready to battle whatever cancer has in store for me.

I am thriving embracing each new day as a blessing.

I am thriving surrounding myself with positivity, energy and light.

I am thriving empowered by hope to endure.

To put it simply, I am a Thriver.

A Day of Inspiration from a Woman who Inspires Daily

Teri Griege has many titles and wears many hats: Ironman, Cancer Thriver, Author, Speaker and Founder of Powered by Hope.

 

Her mission in life is to inspire others and spread the message of hope, strength and courage for cancer patients – those who are battling and living with a life-threatening disease – and those who are the caregivers who need support too.

Teri recently spent the day in Kansas City, Missouri for an event entitled “A Day of Inspiration” where she spoke to and shared her time with 100s of women of all ages and unique points of views. That day made a lasting impression on every woman – the message she shared will not soon be forgotten and had a profound impact on their lives.

The day started off with an intimate breakfast – sharing her story about hope, strength and perseverance.

She tells her story from the heart, a battle that she has fought and continues to fight daily. It all started at the age of 48, when she received the news that she had stage 4 colon cancer. While for many, this would have been game over. Not for Teri, she took this news and used it as motivation to push even harder to accomplish her dreams of training and competing in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. She finished that race with tears in her eyes and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that only few can even imagine. It is one thing to participate in a race (not to mention an Ironman) while you are in the best shape of your life; it’s a whole other scenario when you diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. To this day, Teri continues to race – health, fitness and well-being (physical, mental and emotional stability) is what keeps Teri’s going; living in the moment has never been a truer statement. To share this feeling of hope that Teri has, she presents Powered by Hope coins and medals to others who are battling and living with cancer.

At the June 4th breakfast, one special lady in the audience was surprised to receive the HOPE medal presented by Teri. Something magical always happens when someone receives a Powered by Hope medal around their neck and there is not a dry eye in the room. This medal presents Hope and a coin is passed around to all of those who are present to wish the recipient well and for the recipient to keep this token with them wherever they go.

In the afternoon, Teri shared the stage through a panel discussion and luncheon with other cancer survivors.

In her words, she always feels so honored and privileged to be part of an amazing group of “Cancer Thrivers”, as she calls them, sharing their stories – moments of surprise, sadness, coping and hope. No two stories are alike and yet there is solace in knowing that no one is in this battle alone. Teri knows that there is no magical answer as how to overcome and continue, however, “We all have dealt with adversity, we all have a story. And because I let my walls down and share my story and open myself up – others will share their story too – that’s really what is going on. And through this, we all begin to heal.”

Teri ended the day in Kansas City with a group 6K run.

IMG_6450Teri uses fitness as a way to release all of the stress and anxiety she deals with daily, fortunately, she loves fitness and this is what she knows – she is built for this. Her body and health continue to thrive and fight through her illness and because she treats her body so well this helps to overcome battling the storms of disease that are stirring up within.

IMG_6449Teri never leaves a speaking engagement or event without making new friends. There is a mutual admiration built for those that she surrounds herself with. Suzanne Parker was one of those people that met Teri that day in Kansas City and because of that day; both of their lives will never be the same.

“I met Teri and was instantly drawn to her energy and warmth.  I felt like I was sitting in my living room with a bunch of friends and she was telling her story.  I am not a cancer survivor and I felt her message transcended all “cancers” of daily struggles and life.  I was impacted by her “mile 9” story and the guy in her grocery store.  I have had my own mile 9 journey and I felt she was talking directly to me and telling me how to keep on going….the power of hope.  I was moved emotionally when I watched the video of her crossing the finish line at Kona and I knew then I wanted to meet this woman and be a part of spreading her message.  She gives hope and courage to those who have the privilege of hearing her story.  I am honored to be a part of her team!” Suzanne Parker, Director of Business Development, Sparker Sales Agency

– Suzanne Parker is now an extension of Powered by Hope; helping Teri more speaking engagements and opportunities to share her message of Hope in the Kansas City area.

Teri’s message is one of HOPE – in her definition, HOPE stands for How Ordinary People Endure. In reality, it is extraordinary people like Teri who provide inspiration, strength and courage for all of us to get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other and continue to move forward while overcoming and enduring every challenge we face. It’s about living in the moment, appreciating the little things and MOST IMPORTANTLY always having hope.