Monday, October 4, 2010

Belle Magazine Article (October Issue 2010) by Angie Suttles (A portion of the article)

 “Stop Counting the Moments and Start Making the Moments Count”

When my 17 year old son’s alarm clock failed to go off one morning, he said to me, “I’ll never make it, I don’t have enough time.” I replied with “Be thankful you have the time you do,” as the problem was not the lack of time but the importance of how he spent every moment of the time he had.

A moment is defined as a specific point in time. A moment is the only promise that time can afford us with great value in every single one.

Before surviving two different stage 4 cancers while only in my 30’s, I didn’t really understand the cost of a moment. Like everyone else, I would find myself counting down the days and hours to the weekend and then asking, “Where does the time go?” I learned to stop counting the moments and start making the moments count. Time is the precious commodity in which none of us will ever have enough. Time “really doesn’t” wait for anyone.

As romanticized as “The Bucket List” has become, and as glamorous as our goals and achievements on that list are, we should first learn to appreciate and understand that living resides in the day to day details. It’s not “5 Year Plans,” it is spontaneous trips with family and belly laughs with friends. Scripture tells us in Luke 19:13 that we’re to occupy while living. In order to occupy, we have to engage and absorb the present even in a time of trial and testing.

My time of testing began in 1998 at the age of 31 when I was diagnosed with a rare stage 4 vaginal cancer. I underwent a Radical Vulvectomy followed by 28 treatments of radiation to the pelvis, ending all possibilities of more children. Just at five years clear from that cancer, I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, “Invasive Ductal Cell Carcinoma,” that had metastasized to the bones. I underwent a mastectomy and received the normal protocol of radiation, chemotherapy, and bone strengthener. The final report in June 2004 stated "Healing and Response to Therapy,” which I was told is very rarely stated in reports of this kind. I was then placed on an anti-hormone since the cancer had been estrogen driven. In December 2008, with tumor markers rising, I returned to chemotherapy and completed 36 treatments in eight months. Markers returned to normal, chemotherapy was terminated, and I was again placed on a protocol of bone strengthener and an anti-hormone medication. Then in April of this year, tumor markers were again climbing. I decided to seek out additional answers at MD Anderson in Houston, TX and consult with a new oncologist here at home. I was prescribed Xeloda, a chemo pill, along with bone strengthener. Tumor markers are plunging and once they stabilize, I will maintain the bone strengthener and begin a new anti-hormone therapy.

I engaged myself during my time of testing by serving as The Relay for Life’s Entertainment Chair, a Committee Member for the 2008 Cancer Survivor Alliance Conference Committee in Columbia, by raising funds, and by volunteering with various other organizations in the community. I became a cancer advocate with The Lance Armstrong Foundation in 2007 when I was chosen by the foundation to travel with Lance Armstrong and 199 of my constituents from around the country to Washington, DC to ask Congress to make cancer a national priority. In 2008, the foundation asked me to lead a local Livestrong grassroots effort, and I formed Livestrong Upstate SC. I also served as a Track Leader for the foundation at the Livestrong Summit in Columbus, Ohio in 2008. Livestrong Upstate SC has held Livestrong Day events annually throughout the Upstate for “Livestrong Day” and served various cancer organizations with fundraising and community events. Under the Livestrong Upstate name, I birthed the Upstate’s first cancer survivor dragon boat support group that now benefits one of the local cancer associations.

As breast cancer survivor dragon boaters from across the US, we share our journey of survival and our love for the sport of dragon boating in a new book, “Reaching for Life.” The book was formally launched on July 25, 2010 at the USDBF Club Crew Championships held in Chattanooga, TN. First print sold out within three weeks and went to a second print. The Library of Congress has issued the book an ISSN number. Proceeds from the sales will benefit dragon boating activities all over the country.

I was introduced to dragon boating several years ago while recovering from the first cancer diagnosis, which at the time, did not qualify me since the sport was being directed towards breast cancer survivors to reduce the risk of Lymphadema and reoccurrence. I was reintroduced to it in Washington, DC in 2007 a few years after the breast cancer diagnosis. While having lunch with the South Carolina constituents, I met a breast cancer survivor dragon boater who paddled with the Charleston Dragon Boat Team. From that moment, dragon boating became an untamable passion for me. I have paddled with teams throughout the Southeast and Canada, much of the time while undergoing chemotherapy and it was empowering. With every stroke of the paddle, I was fighting back. Outside of the physical and mental benefits of the sport, every aspect from the reach of the paddle to the pull of the water and the tenacity required to cross the finish line is a parallel resemblance against the fight on cancer. Dragon boaters use the reference, “Awakening the Dragon,” which not only defines a new found love for the sport but a sudden explosive passion for life. I was honored and humbled to have been given the opportunity to share my journey through these cancers and my love for the sport along side of such courageous women who have perseverance and passion.

Passion is the prerequisite for living and the only means by which we can make the moments of our day to day lives count, no matter the circumstances.

“To live without passion is like trying to sing while holding your breath.”

Angie Suttles