Tomorrow, for the 3rd year, I will paddleboard 21 miles on a SUP in order to help cover the cost of mental health support for families touched by cancer. Flatwater Foundation is a non-profit organization in Austin with a goal of raising $1,000,000 in this year’s Tyler’s Dam That Cancer event. Every single penny of the money raised goes directly to covering the cost of mental health support. The following is a letter that I wrote to the founder of Flatwater Foundation, Mark Garza. I believe this sums up just what Flatwater Foundation and Tyler’s DTC event mean to me and WHY I am paddling 21 miles tomorrow.
In June of 2016 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer. There were times when I took some mental blows. Fortunately, I had begun to work with a therapist for unrelated matters just 3 short months prior to my diagnosis (one of many ways the Universe set things in motion for me). Our work together quickly shifted to mental preparation for this marathon called cancer treatment. The strong mental game kept me upright through it all.
As a very physically active person who had just completed my 4th marathon in February I knew I needed to set a physical goal for myself, so I created two physical goals to help motivate me to get my ass up off the couch post-treatment. One was to run Ragnar Austin in April and the second was to do the Tyler’s Dam that Cancer with my friend and fellow Warrior Sister, Clarissa, in June. Clearly the chemo had affected my mind because I had only been on a SUP once in my life J.
My first DTC paddle was a huge mental and physical hurdle in my recovery. I was nervous as hell getting on my board that morning of June 12, 2017, I had no idea if I could finish all 21 miles. It was the longest physical challenge that I had faced in my 5 months post treatment. By the time we finally stopped for lunch, I was exhausted. “You are going to have to dig deep”, I thought. On my left leg I had written “I love MY TRIBE” to remind me that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO IT ALONE, it is ok to ask for help. This was one of the biggest lessons that cancer taught me. This reminder came in handy when the jet-ski told me it was time to get towed….NO, not a tow. (You see, this is how they keep the group together as a paddler falls to the back of the group they are towed back up to the front.) Reluctantly, I grabbed the rope and rode back up to the group. Quickly, I was in the back of the pack again. Towed back to the front, I was determined to stay with the group and then the wind picked up. I was tossed around, and my first reaction was “you can’t do this, what the hell were you thinking” and then many of the lessons that I had learned through treatment suddenly applied to this journey up Lake Austin.
Enjoy the journey – each moment is a gift
You are going to be hit with waves – just roll with them taking them one at a time.
If you fall, then you fall…. you’ll get right back up and be just fine. Everybody falls.
If you have to sit down, then do it – everyone needs to rest once in a while.
Take the TOW when it is offered- we all need a little help sometimes. And if you know you need a TOW don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Don’t judge yourself based on where you are in the pack – we are all at different places in our journey, but we are all in this together.
Stay in the moment and positive – the second you lose focus or get negative you lose balance.
If you lose your balance – just remain calm and regain it. Trust yourself to Right yourself.
I ended up being towed at least 4 times that day but, in the end, it didn’t matter at all. I made it to the finish right alongside everyone else and most importantly raised money so that others can also have the gift of mental health support.
LAST YEAR, just 2 years post diagnosis was different. I brought with me all the lesson from last year and I was ready. I was not nervous, I was excited when I put my board in the water. I still didn’t know if I could make it, but I was pretty confident that I could. I knew that there would be waves and wind but also knew that I could handle anything that came my way. When the waves and wind hit me, I kept my composure and just kept paddling and trusting that they would die down eventually. And toward the end of the day when I had absolutely nothing left to give, I fought to keep from getting towed. “I’ll be damned if I am going to get towed into the cove” I am a fighter, I’ve got this!! AND NO, I did not get towed a single time last year.
Thank you, Mark Garza, for having the vision of Flatwater Foundation and for allowing me to be a part of this great organization and life-changing event. Although I do not see a Flatwater therapist, but the role that my therapist has played and continues to play has been instrumental to me being where I am today. You see, cancer and I have an interesting relationship that could have gone terribly bad had I not had the support of an amazing therapist. Instead, I am a much stronger person and grateful for the lessons that I have learned from cancer, this uninvited guest that decided to take refuge in my body.
When I was paddling the last, most difficult miles my mantra became “NOTHING LEFT BUT HEART, NOTHING LEFT BUT HEART” and in that moment I smiled and thought “Suck it cancer – you thought you could break me, but you did nothing but make me stronger both mentally and physically”.
This is WHY for the last 3 years I have raised money for the Flatwater Foundation and will continue to spread their message and mission of covering the cost of mental health support for both cancer patients and their loved ones. This is WHY I will be on my SUP at 7:00am tomorrow and will paddle my heart out in whatever conditions I face, surrounded by a community of others who believe in the same mission.