All that was me is gone

This time last year I was an ambassador for the 2013 IAAPA Convention at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. I was also finishing a year-long professional internship with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts in Kissimmee, Florida. I had a healthy Mom, a healthy Dad, a boyfriend I saw a future with and the world at my fingertips.

Today, I have no more Mom, a Dad in the process of finishing chemotherapy, no more boyfriend and still the world at my fingertips.

In fewer than 365 days, my life completely and utterly changed its course…which is difficult for someone who prides herself on usually having things fairly put together.

***

On March 21, my Mom had a procedure done that ended in a doctor telling me he was 99 percent sure she had pancreatic cancer…and unfortunately he was right. The moment he told me, in the middle of a busy hospital hallway, was the moment I began mourning the loss of the woman who brought me into this world.

Cancer is a beast. It affects every single human being in one way or another. But pancreatic cancer is different. It’s super aggressive. It took away Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze and my Mother way too soon (she was only 54 years old). It has a 6% survival rate, which hasn’t risen in the last 40 years. And by the time someone experiences symptoms of this cancer, it is more often than not, way too late.

So by the time my mom had jaundice (when your skin turns yellow because bile isn’t being processed normally), the tumor in the head of her pancreas was nearing 1-inch in size. Most people do not even know where their pancreas is located, but it is responsible for many critical functions in the body.

My Mom’s first appointment to Moffitt Cancer Center was on April 1st. Three rounds of chemo and five days of radiation later, we were pushing towards a surgery date of Aug. 8. The Whipple surgery would potentially save my Mom’s life and give her at the least a 5-year survival rate.

The big day came and as soon as the surgeon placed her tiny, delicate hands into my Mom’s abdomen, she discovered several tiny tumors – peritoneal carcinomatosis – the cancer had metastasized. And it was on this day that I had to accept that my Mother would most likely not live long enough to see me get married or have children.

Fast forward to Sept. 11 – a day that is difficult enough to get through already – and we were back at the hospital because my Mom’s breathing was labored and we knew things weren’t right. In the back our minds, we figured the cancer had most likely spread to her lungs, but we continued to deny those thoughts and decided we would continue to think as positively as we could.

But cancer doesn’t care who you are or how positive your outlook is. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. And it had indeed spread to her lungs. Fluid began to fill up on one side and she ended up having it drained on a few different occasions. But we still refused to believe this was the end.

My Mom still had so much to do in her life. She had a good job, she was finishing her bachelor’s degree in business management…she also had goals to lose weight, but the cancer was already taking care of that and then some.

Having lost 85+ pounds in a matter of months, my mother no longer looked like the woman I knew. And even when she could eat, she still continued to lose weight. Seeing someone shrink away before your eyes is something I would never wish on anyone. By the end of September, I knew things had progressed too far. At this point, more chemo and pain management were the only options left. But, the pain was barely being managed and the chemo just caused more pain.

***

My Mom was never afraid of death. Don’t get me wrong – she gave 110 percent and then some…but by the end of the first week of October, I could tell she was ready to go. Her best friend had come down to visit her from Connecticut and she had all of her loved ones around her. She had made her peace and was ready to be done with it all. The chemo. The pain. The constant struggle. And how could I argue with her at this point?

My Mom lost her Mom at the tender age of 21. She knew what it was to lose a Mother way too soon and I think that played a huge role in how she raised me and we made sure that nothing would go unsaid by the time she could no longer speak.

And that time came by the second week of October. It was then that Hospice care was called to our house. But even with Hospice, my aunt and I were sharing the responsibility of administering liquid morphine every two hours by syringe. It was then that I decided in my heart that this was no way to live and I had to come to terms that it was time to let go.

Late at night on Oct. 15, my Mom took her last breath. It wasn’t until the Boston Bruins won in OT that she left us, though. One month later and it’s still so surreal.

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***

Meanwhile, back in June, my Dad had an MRI for some stomach pain he had been experiencing. It was then that doctors decided he would have his gallbladder removed, which is a fairly common operation. We humans can survive without this organ.

But, during the surgery, a mass was discovered within the gallbladder that was cancerous. So the surgeon not only removed his gallbladder, but the surrounding lymph nodes and a small slice of his liver. And he’s had chemo once a week, almost every week since. And he might have to have radiation as well. But, thankfully, his journey has been no where near as life-changing as my mother’s.

Did I mention they’re divorced and I’m an only child? So, yeah, having both parents diagnosed with cancer in the same year, only to be treated in the same exact hospital that is located on your college campus is a very strange way to live. Perhaps I should play the lottery or something.

***

I’ll spare you the details of my break-up, especially since that happened first, but I’m sure I’ll feel the need to write down my thoughts on that tale at some point, too. But the purpose of this blog is this:

Last year, I saw life in one way and today I’ve been forced to see it completely differently. SO much has changed. I’m 26 years old and I have absolutely no idea what tomorrow holds. And while so much of my life is out of my control, I have learned the hard way that I am at least somewhat in control of where it is going. My hope and faith in people, my will to carry on my Mom’s legacy, and most importantly my perspective is what continues to get me through. I can only hope that reading some of my story can help you put your life into perspective as well.

And if anything, my dreams and aspirations are just that much more within reach. Why? Because I have hit bottom. And life can only go up from here.

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VIDEO: Voices of Liberty add ‘Let it Go’ to repertoire

Just recently the Voices of Liberty added some new songs to their repertoire, including “Let it Go” from that little movie, Frozen.

This a cappella group is one my most favorite things to see while I’m at Epcot. They give my goosebumps goosebumps. They always nail their songs and they’re always mixing it up throughout the day so you’re never hearing the same song twice.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to be in the parks myself as of late, but thankfully Inside the Magic has posted video of them performing the new song:

If you’ve never seen this group, I highly recommend it. They can be found in the rotunda in the American Adventure pavilion. The rotunda is not only beautiful, but it enables the group to achieve the perfect sound.

New Fantasyland Dress Rehearsal


10/27/12: Here’s a shot I took while at the Magic Kingdom during a dress rehearsal for the expansion of Fantasyland.

I was lucky enough to experience just about everything that was open (minus meeting Ariel in her grotto). However, I arrived during sunset, so most of my time there was in the dark. I was disappointed at first about this, but it will just give me more to look forward to!

What can I say? I was speechless when I walked up to the entrance. To say I was excited is beyond an understatement. I notice when a restroom on Disney property is changed, or when a new poster is put up, so seeing an entire new area of the Magic Kingdom is quite the milestone.

I don’t really want to give too much away – if you want spoilers, there are plenty of those blogs out there. I will say that it is Disney being Disney. I could easily spend hours roaming around in order to explore each little detail. Both Belle and Ariel were a big part of my childhood and it is so lovely to have an entire portion of the park dedicated to them.

Oh. And Be Our Guest restaurant. I only got to see the dining room from behind a rope, but my heart stopped for a moment when I first stepped inside. Can’t wait to try the grey stuff – I hear it’s delicious! 😉

Have you seen New Fantasyland yet? Do you have plans to? What are you looking forward to most?

Stop searching for perfect…*Hint* It doesn’t exist.

You. Are. Beautiful.

Your height. Your eye color. Your ears. Your teeth. You wouldn’t be YOU without them. There are some things we can change/alter about our physical appearance, but for the most part we are stuck with them. Why not embrace what you have?

Today I read that Pussycat Dolls and X-Factor judge, Nicole Scherzinger, struggled with Bulimia and self-harm…for eight years. And let’s face it – that kind of struggle never truly goes away. Personal battles shape us into who we become and I’m glad so many public figures are finally choosing to come forward with their REAL life issues.

We somehow have this notion that celebrities don’t get depressed and that they are immune to sadness. Little by little we are tearing down the idea that they are these perfect entities who don’t have stretch marks and never had acne. But we have so many examples to prove that it is pretty far from the reality, so why does the misconception continue?

And often the funniest people have struggled the most with depression. Ellen. Jim Carrey. Alec Baldwin. Owen Wilson. (The list is endless…) The people who have inspired you the most have been where you’ve been.

So Nicole, Demi LovatoLady Gaga and many other women in the spotlight have told their stories. Will we allow it to make a difference? Will bullies think twice before they make their next taunt?

How long will it take for these revelations to trickle down to our youth? I think we need more men to come forward and speak on their battles (men suffer from anorexia/bulimia, too).

And don’t think that just because you’re in college that you can’t still set an example for the next generation. Pay attention to the messages you are sending when you are in public. Kids DO pick up on what twenty-somethings do and even if you don’t think you are a role model, YOU ARE.

Perfect example: I went to grab a bite to eat the other day and the there was a young girl (probably no more than eight) sitting at the table next to me. She took a sip of her drink and proceeded to ask her mother/sister…

“You know that show with Snooki?” she asked.

“Yes, I do. JWoww..she was on that show with JWoww.”

“Yes! That show. I want to be JWoww,” the little girl said without laughing.

Wow, indeed. Is this what we’re teaching our little girls? I probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelash if a high-school-aged girl had said this, but an elementary schooler? Again – PAY ATTENTION.

Oh. And more thing. You know that stank eye some girls like to give other girls when they’re out and about? The one they do when they’ve seen someone pretty, someone who is wearing something they like or wish they had. Perhaps try smiling at them instead. Or complimenting them. Lead with kindness instead.

Another example: I was in the line at Chick-Fil-a once and I saw three girls behind the register looking me up and down and talking/laughing. My mind immediately went to a negative place and I started wondering what was wrong with me. However, when I stepped forward to place my order, one of the girls proceeded to compliment me on my laptop case. See, it’s a Walt Disney World case and she LOVES Disney World. I actually ended up sharing my info with her and learned myself a lesson.

And while this blog post is getting way longer than I intended, let me end with this.

We are human. We are all struggling with something. We are all trying to find our way in this crazy game called life. Let’s try leaning on each other more. Even if it feels unnatural or makes you uncomfortable, try it. Try smiling at someone instead of scowling. Try sharing something that makes you vulnerable with a friend.

It’s amazing the amount of doors it can open up.

Obama: I’m going to Disney World!

Obama's audio-animatronic at Disney's Hall of Presidents - photo credit WDW

I guess I came up with the most obvi headline because the Orlando Sentinel (and now several others) decided on the same one. I’ll chalk it up to great minds thinking alike…

The news broke around noon today that the President will indeed visit The Mouse on Thursday to deliver a speech about tourism.

A White House aide stated:

On Thursday, the President will travel to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where he’ll unveil a strategy that will significantly help boost tourism and travel, an important sector in the U.S. economy. The action will be taken as part of the President’s “We Can’t Wait” agenda of executive actions that will aid job growth and don’t require congressional approval.

Obama was last in Orlando last October for a fundraiser. He apparently hit up a downtown Orlando bar for a pint of Guinness. My man!

My first thought upon hearing the news was, “I wanna gooooooo.” But, alas, I’ll be in class. #collegestudentproblems

Many of the Disney sites and Twitter accounts are already buzzing about the news and the main topic of discussion is whether Obama will visit himself in the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom.

Lou Mongello, host of WDW Radio, tweeted:

With Obama visiting Disney World on Thursday, did you know that no American President has ever seen himself in The Hall of Presidents? #Yet

NBD, right?

Well, for this Disney nerd it is.

More updates to follow…

**UPDATE**

According to my local news station:

Mr. Obama is expected to arrive in Orlando aboard Air Force One at 11:40 a.m. and leave at 2:15 p.m

He will speak at Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World at 12:35 p.m.

Watch it LIVE: HERE
 or HERE

Also, a Tweeter with the handle @easywdw is there right NOW and he’s posting lots of neat pictures.

I guess I should not be surprised that guests are not allowed anywhere near the Castle. However, I was not imagining as many barricades and blocked off areas…

Photo courtesy of @easywdw