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.

Don’t miss out: Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

Muppets Most Wanted topiary.

Muppets Most Wanted topiary

Spring has officially sprung and one of the best places to enjoy the Florida sun is at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.

Now in its 21st year, the festival is better than ever because outdoor kitchens have been added, making it what I call—Food & Wine Festival with Plants.

All kidding aside, the park really is a sight to see. There are beautiful topiaries all around and everything is so vibrant.

Snow White outside of the Germany pavilion. Notice she even has a face this year!

Snow White outside of the Germany pavilion. Notice she even has a face this year!

There’s a butterfly garden and a Monsters University-inspired playground for the kids. There’s a festival center where talent from HGTV shows come and do talks and demos. There’s even special entertainment every weekend in what’s known as the Flower Power Concert Series…today through the weekend features The Lovin’ Spoonful, who you might know for such hits as “Summer in the City” and “Do You Believe in Magic.”

Now back to the FOOD. I’ve gone to the Festival a couple of times so far (I mean, I do work at Epcot right now after all) and I’ve been lucky enough to try out quite a few of the options.

Temaki chicken hand roll in Japan! Very yummy and quite the portion!

Temaki chicken hand roll in Japan! Very yummy and quite the portion!

Fruit sushi or Frushi in Japan.

Fruit sushi or Frushi in Japan.

Potato & cheddar cheese biscuit with salmon tartare from the Buttercup Cottage in the UK pavilion.

Potato & cheddar cheese biscuit with salmon tartare from the Buttercup Cottage in the UK pavilion.

Three cheese manicotti from Italy.

Three cheese manicotti from Italy.

This gnocchi from France is one of my favorites!

This gnocchi from France is one of my favorites!

Baghrir, a tasy pancake with almonds and honey, from Morocco.

Baghrir, a tasty pancake with almonds and honey, from Morocco.

Beijing-style candied strawberries from China.

Beijing-style candied strawberries from China.

And the award for most interesting offering goes to…

Piggylicious bacon cupcake with maple frosting and pretzel crunchies on top. I dare you to try it!

Piggylicious bacon cupcake with maple frosting and pretzel crunchies on top. I dare you to try it!

I obviously tried all of these on different days, and shared with friends, so by no means do you have to try all of it at once. In fact, that’s the best part of these festivals…they’re included in your admission and you can participate as much or as little as you want!

So go celebrate what spring has to offer and head on over to this fun event…you’ve got until May 18!

*All of these photos (and more) can be found on my Instagram page, @rebeccajforman!

ABC’s ‘The Middle’ films episode at EPCOT

One of the coolest things about being at Walt Disney World Resort is you never know what or who you’re going to see. With 47-squares miles, there is always something going on.

Today, ABC’s family comedy “The Middle” is filming an episode in Epcot. And even if you weren’t a Guest in the park, you can still check it all out thanks to social media.

Shared by @RamblingKite

Shared by @RamblingKite

Shared by @kaylaferris

Shared by @kaylaferris

Shared by @lizmclean14

Shared by @lizmclean14

@BazTastic77

Shared by @BazTastic77

Shared by @brihealy

Shared by @brihealy

As a Disney Cast Member, I had the chance to look over the production schedule. And while such information is confidential, I can say that it’s truly amazing that such a huge crew can film a television show without interrupting and interfering with the daily operation.

I’m not exactly sure when this episode will air, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it!

When things fall into place: #EIJ13

Last September, I attended Excellence in Journalism 2012 #EIJ12 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I’m from Florida so it made sense to go. My SPJ chapter went as a group and made the four-hour trek south to the convention. It was definitely a new experience and certainly a rewarding one. I mean, how often do journalists from all across the nation come together for a weekend in the name of all things journalism?

But, as much fun as it was, I figured I probably wouldn’t get the chance to attend again anytime soon. I knew the location changed every year and I assumed next year’s event would probably be on the other side of the country. And I was right.

However, this past January I began working for The Walt Disney Company, which led to me having roommates. One of my roommates, the one I shared a room with, is from the Los Angeles area. This past April, said roomie invited me to go home with her to California — which ended up being my very first trip to Cali! Fast forward a few months later to find out that not only is this year’s convention IN California, but it’s being held across. the. street. from. DISNEYLAND. Really? What are the chances?

So, four months later and I am preparing for a journey out west once again. Isn’t it funny how life works out sometimes? It is truly remarkable how seemingly little choices and decisions can affect other aspects of your future. It’s fascinating to reflect on the little web that is your life and the zillion degrees of separation that form and intertwine from within it.

So, here is what I’m looking forward to:

  1. IN-N-OUT (Hey, at least I’m being honest here.)
  2. Yes, journalism. Of course. It’s always fun to be in a room with other crazy newsies.
  3. Being reunited with my roomie!
  4. Cali weather & landscape (a.k.a. me staring out of the window the entire flight with my jaw to the floor from seeing land that isn’t flat. I still love ya, Florida…)
  5. DISNEYLAND – #DUH. I mean, I’ve only spent one day out of my entire life in this resort, so there is SO much more for me to see and explore. Funny sidenote: the convention is giving each participant two free park hopper tickets. OF COURSE THEY ARE…now that I can get myself in no problem. See, life wins again.
  6. Seeing Jason Mraz in concert on Labor Day. That’ll be one off the bucket list.
  7. The culture & languages – I can practice my Mandarin AND my Spanish all in the same day!
  8. Being somewhere else.
  9. Not knowing what the day will bring.
  10. Making new life connections – who knows where these new stories and experiences may take me!
EIJ12 Welcome Reception: USF SPJ with our genius professor!

EIJ12 Welcome Reception: USF SPJ with our genius professor!

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?

Disney Professional Internships: Stage 1 Complete

I’m not very good at waiting.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very patient person, but when it comes to things that I’m really excited about…I want to know NOW…or yesterday for that matter.

Just  a few minutes ago I had my first phone interview for a Disney Professional Internship. I was able to schedule the interview on Monday, so I did not have to wait very long for it, but I was told I might not get a response/official offer for a position until early December!

My interview was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. My phone rang at 3:29. Typical Disney and that is what I love about this company. You can count on what they tell you. They’re just dependable like that.

According to my phone, the interview lasted 15 minutes and 16 seconds (shorter than most wait times on property)! A lot was riding on those few minutes, so I spent a good amount of time preparing for my onstage moment. I know The Mouse like the back of my glove, so I didn’t want to over-think the entire process, but I did print out the application, take notes and ask friends and family for advice.

It’s been a few years since I was a Cast Member (although, once a CM, always a CM, I like to say) and I really miss it. I hope my answers grant me the opportunity to move on to the next step. I know the competition is fierce and the opportunities few, so I’ll be checking my status and keeping my fingers crossed.

I have found I can connect every one I meet to Disney (it’s a great ice-breaker if you’re ever in need of a conversation starter). The Disney name is global and every life has been touched by the brand in at least some form. So, what’s your favorite Disney memory? Do you have a favorite park? Character? Event? I’d love to hear it.

Faith, trust and pixie dust,

Rebecca

If you’re a Walt Disney World fan, follow my Disney Twitter account: @TweetsFromWDW