Meet Emily Floros: 2014-2015 Finance Chair

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I remember the day I finally picked a major. I was so excited to study Public Policy and be surrounded by peers who shared my drive to better our country. The only problem was that I had no idea what policy are I wanted work in. One day I was sure I was going to work in environmental law, the next I was convinced nonprofit management was the route for me. Fast forward to today, entering senior year, and I am passionate and focused on health policy. What was the biggest factor in my shift from bouncing from policy area to policy area and then to committing to health policy? Lori’s Hands.

When I went to my first Lori’s Hands meeting the fall of my sophomore year I had no idea the effect it would have on my life. When I heard about Lori’s Hands during activities night, I was floored by what a great mission the club had and how committed the volunteers were.

In Lori’s Hands I found an organization that was doing meaningful service for some of the nicest people I’ve had the chance to meet. Doing community service is always great, but in my mind, one of the things that sets us apart from other organizations is our clients. They are incredible people who are always so interesting and fun to talk with.

After volunteering with Lori’s Hands for a semester, I became one of the Recruitment Chairs. In this role I was essentially tasked with one of my favorite things to do; talk about Lori’s Hands. The more I became involved with Lori’s Hands, the more I began to connect the dots between our clients needs and the holes in our current health and healthcare policies. Volunteering for our clients has given me great understanding of health issues at the most important level: the patients.

I spent last semester in Denmark studying public health and got the chance to learn about a healthcare system where aging in-place was the norm and all eligible patients had access to services similar to the ones that Lori’s Hands provides back here in Delaware. This got me even more excited about our work and passionate about working towards policies that would make it easier for all chronically ill patients in the United States to age in place.

I’m so excited to be back and serve as Finance Chair. I can’t wait to see all the amazing things we do this year and I know there will be a lot of them! 

Written by: Emily Floros

I Know More Than Her Disease

Mark & Mom Halloween

She was only the second female in her high school’s history to score 1,000 points in basketball. She went on to net nine hundred more in college. She was a three-sport collegiate athlete, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, got married and had three kids all before the age of 35. One year later, after being incorrectly told she was suffering from depression and fabricating her symptoms, a neurologist finally diagnosed her with Multiple Sclerosis. Her name is Michelle and she is my mom.

When she was first diagnosed, I didn’t really understand what it meant: what it meant for her, what it meant for me, what it meant for our family. The last fourteen years have gone by quickly and given me added perspective, but everyday starts off the same. Mom cringes as she fills a syringe (with medicine we both know isn’t curing her) and finds a spot to inject herself that isn’t too bruised or too sensitive for that sharp point. She drinks a big glass of water to accompany the myriad pills designed to fix this, delay that, numb this, and correct that. But we usually act like the quintessential American family—trying to get to work and school on time without forgetting to pack lunches and sign permission slips.

I think the most difficult aspect for my mom and me is the inability for others to understand who she was before this disease and what she has gone through to be here today. I often get upset when a stranger notices my mom’s limp and says, “Did you just have knee surgery?” I wish her struggle to walk was as temporary as waiting for normalcy post-surgery. Most people don’t know what a lights-out shooter my mom was in basketball, how quickly she dashed around the bases in softball, or how deadly her strokes were in field hockey. But then again, I do know and I guess that’s all who matters.

Sometimes I feel like I am abandoning my mom. I dart off to college, only to be gone for 3 months at a time. I study abroad in places halfway around the world. I intern in cities far from our home in New Jersey. But she is the first one to support my ideas, as crazy as they are. She pushes me to be better and not let her MS keep me from living my life (even though I know it’s keeping her from living her life).

This will be my mom’s 30th year teaching elementary school—a feat in and of itself. And unlike many who dream of retirement, she is committed to teaching as long as she can.

My mom is hopeful that researchers will find a cure for MS. In the meantime, she continues to be an amazing mother to her kids, a loving wife to my dad, and a source of inspiration to her students and friends. What more can one ask for?

Written by: Mark Rucci

Mark is a senior 4+1 student at the University of Delaware working toward his B.A. in Public Policy and his M.P.A. in Urban Education and Social Policy.

Mark & Mom Lauren's Wedding

Just Hit Send: How To Get More Than You Could Have Imagined

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My nearly-completed fundraising email sat unopened on my desktop for more than four weeks. I had signed up for the Musselman Half Ironman to honor the two strongest women in my life: my Grandma Bette, who passed away from Leukemia in June of last year, and my mom, Sue, who continues her fight against Breast Cancer. Through my race, I had also decided to fundraise for Lori’s Hands, an awesome non-profit I cared deeply about. So what was keeping me from sending out the email? What if I got a negative response? What if I failed to meet my fundraising goal? Would I be ‘that guy’ nagging his friends to donate? My letter exposed a vulnerability – did I really want to share that with the world?

With my race a mere six weeks away, I was coming up with every reason I could to not hit ‘send’, but a couple frank conversations with friends convinced me. How bad could it be? I would send out a bunch of messages, probably annoy some people, and have a few uncomfortable conversations about something that was very raw for me. In the end, I would feel good about myself, and raise a few dollars for Lori’s Hands, so it would all be worth it.

What I got was way more than I could have imagined.

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Luke’s forearm: initials of people in his life or the lives of his friends who have suffered from cancer — one for each mile he ran in the Musselman Triathlon.

I got community. The outpouring of support I received blew me away. People ranging from my closest friends to those I had never met showed up in a huge way. They donated. They sent encouraging messages. They produced videos, made signs, and organized raffles. They got up at 6:30AM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to train with me. 60-mile bike ride? Sure. Cold-calling local businesses to get them to donate? No problem. You name it, they did it. None of what I achieved would have been possible without the support of my community.

I got vulnerability. The letter I sent out was the real first leg of my triathlon. I was committed to honoring my mom and grandma with it just as much as with the race itself, but this meant letting 200 people in on the most emotional and difficult part of my life. And it meant painting the picture of all there was to honor in a clear way – not just telling people that my mom and grandma were incredible women, but showing them too.

I was moved by the response I received. People shared about their own experiences with chronic illnesses. They wrote of friends, family members, and loved ones who had suffered, of hardships endured, and overcome. Several times I was driven to tears while at work by people’s stories that so closely resembled my own. The way in which I was able to connect with others through my own sharing brought greater meaning to my fundraiser and race and has allowed me to bring that same vulnerability to other parts of my life.

I got inspiration. Backed by my remarkable community, I experienced a new sense of what was possible. Sign up for a crazy race and do it. Set an unreasonable fundraising goal and make it. Put together a last minute raffle and pull it off. On race day, I dedicated different segments of my race to the loved ones of people I cared about. Each mile, I imagined who each of those people were to the people I knew and how those relationships resembled my own relationship with my mom and grandma. With those people in mind, I found the strength to transform my race, overcoming my own psyched-out terror through 70.3 miles of 30mph headwinds, torrential rain, and grueling hills. I was able to really be there for it, and loved every minute.

Fundraising for Lori’s Hands was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. What did I get? I got that by setting a crazy goal, sharing yourself, and getting your community on board, anything is possible.

Thinking about sending out that letter and not sure it’ll be worth it?

Here’s my advice:

Just hit send.

Written by: Luke Warford

On July 13th, Luke Warford suited up to complete a Half Ironman at the Musselman Triathlon! Luke has been a friend and supporter of Lori’s Hands since it was just an idea, and over the past 6 weeks he has raised over $8,000 to support our organization (our biggest donation EVER)! He completed the triathlon in honor of his mother and grandmother, both of whom have had cancer, and both of whom exemplify the energetic and generous spirit of Lori’s Hands. Thanks for all of your hard work and support Luke! You are our hero.

A Word from Brett LaFave

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My mom Lori worked as a bookkeeper and volunteered with an organization that provides support to older adults. She poured her heart into her work and her volunteer service. First and foremost, though, she is remembered as a devoted mother to Sarah and me, wife to my dad, sister to her siblings, daughter to her parents, and faithful friend to many. She was a caring person who exuded love of family and community. Mom was first diagnosed with cancer in 1995. She went through chemo and was in remission for a few years during which she was able to maintain a very active lifestyle. She was diagnosed again around 2000 and died in 2003. She was much missed after she died but the missing has generally changed to a celebration of her life – partly because of the futility of missing people who have died and partly because what my mother wanted most for the people she knew was for them to be happy. She certainly lives on in the consciousness and lives of many. She would say, if she were here, that her 44 year life was a full and meaningful one – but 44 years is not a full life. My mother was always grateful for the time she had – though there were definitely more things she would have liked to do like attend weddings, peel apples with her sisters, watch birds at the birdfeeder and help my wife and me to set up our first house. We would definitely love to have her help! Mom also had more impractical dreams – like wearing a mascot costume at a major sporting event. I doubt that my very shy mother would ever have actually followed through on that last dream, but she certainly would have continued to be the bedrock of many people’s lives.

Written by: Brett LaFave

Brett is participating in “The 2015 Ride to Conquer Cancer,” riding in honor of his mom, Lori. Check out his fundraising page here!

The Lionheart School

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It is Tuesday at The Lionheart School and a group of the students are seated on one of the school buses with their volunteer name badges proudly displayed on their chests. They are headed to Dogwood Forest, a retirement village located near the school. The students’ smiles shine with anticipation as the bus comes to a stop at Dogwood’s front entrance. The only thing slowing these teens down is the crowd of residents waiting for them to arrive – residents the students consider friends. The students patiently navigate the hallway, while greetings are exchanged amongst this mutual fan club.

With the excitement of greetings complete, the teens divide into two groups and head off to their respective wings of Dogwood. The first group heads to the memory care center, Inspirations Neighborhood, where they find the staff playing word games or enjoying a song with the seniors, with hopes of triggering a memory. More greetings are exchanged – hellos, hugs and handshakes that are often repeated during the time spent in the center. While chiming into the game or song, the students set about their work of setting tables and preparing for the residents’ lunch. Too quickly, the teen volunteers have finished their job in this wing and say their goodbyes. They make their way back to the front desk and begin their second task – mail delivery. Some students will go about this job independently while others continue to learn the ropes with a teacher/job coach.

The second group of teens head to the bistro located in independent living wing of Dogwood. There they meet up with residents for an old-fashion game of bean bag toss, putt –putt, balloon volleyball or horseshoes. Encouraged to take charge, the students choose the game, set it up, score the game and, at times, help a senior physically play the game. The laughter is contagious and the participation easy among this group.   The time flies and soon the teens are making their goodbyes in this wing as well.

Sam Carly and Conor setting the tables at Dogwood

Dogwood Forest is one of four vocational work sites that currently welcome Lionheart for Life students. Through the school’s vocational program, students are encouraged to work as independently as possible at each work site. In doing so, students gain confidence in themselves and their abilities while exploring a variety of tasks and potential work environments.

This fall, The Lionheart School and Dogwood Forest Assisted Living Community will begin the fourth year of their partnership. Lionheart School students are being given an incredible opportunity for social and vocational growth through this relationship. The chemistry between the generations is incredible. Students with autism and other communication differences are benefitting from the pace of life at Dogwood, the kind wisdom of their older friends, and steady support while they willingly serve others. Working in a positive, loving, and welcoming environment is so important for these teens and the skills they are learning at Dogwood that will transfer to a variety of other work locations.

It is Tuesday; however, if you ask the staff and residents of Dogwood Forest as well as the Lionheart for Life students, they’ll simply tell you it is the best day of the week!

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Written by: Heather Wagner, Director of Lionheart for Life & Ali Curtin, Office Manager

To learn more about The Lionheart School and Dogwood Forest Assisted Living Community, read about them on the The Huffington Post or visit their website! 

Plagued With An Invisible Illness

I guess I lead a double life.

At first glance, I’m your typical urban young professional. I’ve got a corporate job in the financial industry and I wear heels and eyeliner every day. I attend meetings and write reports and I’m pretty darn efficient in Excel. I eat salads and go to yoga whenever I get a chance. Sometimes I go out for dinner after work. I fit the bill exactly.

But it’s all a show. The truth is that I’m constantly putting on a show. My computer bag rattles with pills in plastic cases. My back aches from holding myself upright for 9 hours a day. I have my doctor’s online portal open behind my Outlook emails. I’ll be sick in the bathroom and then sit down at my desk and put my headset back on. I get home from work and wake up 4 hours later still in my business casual clothes. I am barely holding it together for 40 hours a week.

I am plagued with an invisible illness. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in June 2013 and have been coming to terms with it ever since. Diagnosis in and of itself was a journey that took many years and countless medical tests to discover, not to mention a few serendipitous interactions and moments of realization. Treatment has been physically and mentally arduous. I take over 40 pills every single day, sometimes upwards of 70 depending on the week. I’ve cut out gluten, lactose, caffeine, alcohol, salt, sugar, and sugar substitutes. My kitchen is filled with more pills and powders and liquid medications than and old-time apothecary. But even now, I can’t help but imagine the spirochetes swarming my veins and crawling up my spine. A war of epic microscopic proportions is being waged in every organ under my skin and I have no choice but to stand up and give another PowerPoint presentation.

I’m still a high-functioning member of society (because I’m one of the lucky ones) but I carry the burden of a secret lifestyle on my shoulders. I’ve spent years and years fixing my face to hide nausea, adjusting my shoulders to hide fatigue, teaching myself to focus on putting one foot in front of the other to walk through the day. Some people know that I have Lyme disease, but they have no idea what that means. They think it’s like malaria or rabies because I got it from a “bug bite.” They think I can just take a Centrum Silver instead of all of my supplements because “it has everything I should need.” They think I’m lazy or apathetic on the days when I feel like I’m trudging through mud because I at least had the energy to put on a dress and mascara that morning.

I’m not asking for help. In fact, feeling physically and mentally broken has driven me to prove my own strength to myself to the point of rejecting help. But I’m pleading for awareness: of how easily Lyme disease is contracted, of how difficult it can be to diagnose an invisible illness, and of the everyday battles of existence; of not merely surviving but living through it. Of the weight of keeping all of these secrets and lying about being okay and self-pressure to keep up in a world that won’t slow down for you.

Written by: Laura Myers

Laura Myers was was diagnosed with Lyme disease in June 2013 but unknowingly lived with related symptoms prior to that for an estimated ten years. She enjoys American literature, caring for her cactus, and teaching her old dog new tricks.

Meet Ashley Lewis: Incoming President of Lori’s Hands

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Ashley pictured on right with new volunteers.

I remember the day I received my acceptance letter to the University of Delaware’s Nursing program. Just like any other high school senior, I was anxious to move into my new dorm, excited to meet lots of new people and I really wondered if college courses were really 10X harder than high school, like my teachers told me they would be. While some of my classes were a lot harder than others, I felt that I was able to learn a lot and take away from each of them. Looking back, I can truly say that I would not have been able to predict that I would become the person that I am today…and much of my self-discovery came through my experience as a member of Lori’s Hands.

I first joined this great organization during my sophomore year as a way to earn community service hours. I really appreciated the up-close-and-personal experience that Lori’s Hands allows its volunteers to have with older adults that are living with chronic illnesses. After my first few visits to a client named Jean, I developed a keen interest in geriatrics and was sure I wanted to work with older adults in my future career. The stories she shared with me about her life before she experienced a stroke were so full of joy and happiness. It was very apparent to me that the unexpected stroke changed her life in ways that she couldn’t ever imagine. In her younger years, she worked as an elementary school teacher, which required lots of energy and enthusiasm for life. She also enjoyed gardening but now she is only able to manage a few potted plants that she often asks me to trim and water. It was the small chores that I could complete in 5 minutes that would probably take her an hour due to her disabled gait and limited range of motion that made me realize how difficult life can become for those suffering from a chronic illness.

A lot of older adults do not have assistance around the home and the fact that Lori’s Hands gives students the opportunity to learn about chronic illnesses while also making a difference in the lives of its clients has become the driving force behind my passion for the organization. Last year, I began to lose interest in clinical nursing and thought of ways in which I could have a larger impact in the field of healthcare delivery and administration. I took a great leap of faith and switched my major to Public Policy with a health-oriented focus. Ultimately, I aspire to help create efficient and inclusive health policies for all people and ensure that our ever-increasing older adult population is not overlooked.

I am both proud and honored to have been elected as the 2014-2015 President of Lori’s Hands. For this upcoming school year, I am looking forward to working alongside our other amazing officers and volunteers to continue to grow the organization and provide everyone involved with a fulfilling experience. I am also striving to build a greater sense of community among our volunteers and organize a few events that are open to the entire Newark community. I am thankful to Lori’s Hands for aiding me in my growth as a person, as I have learned a lot about myself through helping others. It has been a rewarding experience thus far and I am excited to help the organization expand and move forward. Onward!

Written by: Ashley Lewis

A Mother’s Love

Imagine this: me, an innocent toddler, walking clumsily around our den, my mother’s outstretched hands ready to catch me if I fell.

Imagine this: me, six years old, racing ahead, thinking she was holding onto my bike. She wasn’t. Yet I didn’t fall.

Imagine this: me, twelve-years-old, sitting on the back porch, the hot wood burning the back of my thighs, hearing my mother tell me she has cancer.

Imagine this: still twelve, my mother’s head bald as a cue ball, but she’s gripping my hand as the surgeon wheels me back to the O.R. Me, having cancer. My mother, recovering from her last chemotherapy, sleeping in a hospital chair next to me all night.

A mother’s love knows no bounds. That’s what I’ve always heard. That’s what I’ve always felt, when she’s smoothed my hair or patted my back or kissed my cheek. It’s there, in the way she speaks to me, softly yet sternly, shaping me into the woman she knows I can be.

My mother was raised to be independent yet humble—not needing any help, but also not being afraid to ask for it anyway. She put this to use when the doctor told her that her own body had turned against her—she had breast cancer, and she’d need chemotherapy to save her life. She put on a brave face, not letting us see how scared she was, and she lived.

And just when she thought her nightmare was over—just when she’d stop fighting for her life—she found out that I’d be fighting for mine.

I was twelve, slowly merging into teenagehood, when all I should’ve been worried about was algebra and training bras. The doctors told me I was so brave and so strong. They told me I had Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, a rare blood disease where the white blood cells attack the bone, but I was so brave and so strong. I’d be fine. One surgery on my skull to scrape the bad cells out, and I’d be done.

But then, a year later, at the ripe age of thirteen, a full teenager, I was back for a second round of surgery, and a more pressing worry. Chemotherapy was in the talks. My mother held her breath when they mentioned this. I breathed for her.

The first day of her chemotherapy, I cried. The first day of mine, I didn’t.

Four years flew by in a blur of butterfly needles and the same old question: how are you feeling today? For every appointment, for every treatment, every scan, every emergency room visit, she was there, smoothing my hair or patting mu back or kissing my cheek. She knew what it was like to be at the brink of death, and she wasn’t going to let me feel that fear alone. She knew she had raised me to be strong and brave, to not need help, but she helped me anyways, because that’s a mother’s love.

I probably would have died without the chemotherapy. But I definitely would have died without her there next to me. No one really values the caregivers they have in their life until they’re in desperate need of that care.

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Written by: Hannah Gordon

Hannah Gordon is a junior at the University of Michigan studying Communications and Creative Writing. She currently resides in Ann Arbor, where she spends most days drinking lots of coffee and writing for Thought Catalog, Listicle, and What the F Magazine. To read more of her pieces, visit http://thoughtcatalog.com/hannah-gordon/.

An Interview with Katie Den Ouden

After reading an awesome interview on Verily featuring Katie Den Ouden, we knew that we had to reach out to her! Lori’s Hands had the privilege of interviewing Katie as she told us about her life, her work and her mother’s battle with multiple sclerosis. Katie’s interview below offers invaluable insight and we are so thankful to have had the opportunity to speak with her! For more information visit: http://katiedenouden.com/.

LH: Tell us about yourself and your work!

KDO: At 19, I was studying abroad and got a phone call that changed my life. My older brother and I had been the sole caretakers of my mother, who has multiple sclerosis. He called to tell me that our mom had gotten an infection and was in the ICU with a very small chance of living. I couldn’t do anything from abroad. Up until then, I thankfully never struggled with food or my body image, but in a matter of days I started using food to feel in control of my life. A downward spiral happened: depression, an eating disorder, losing then gaining thirty pounds in a year, hormonal imbalance, and isolation. I had felt tremendous amounts of guilt, shame, loneliness, and perfectionism. I felt hopeless with my body and in my life, like I was simply existing.

It was my journey of coming out of this stuck and simply “existing” place that unleashed my customizable road map, not a blanket approach, which women can use to find freedom AND uncover what their body, soul, and life needs – regardless of the health and stress of those around them. This roadmap includes the exact tools, adventures, mindset shifts to help women get unstuck at any point for the rest of their lives so they can be wild.free.alive. AND FULLY give back to the world and loved ones.

Bottom line – I help women come ALIVE and truly live and love their lives by unleashing the wild. free. alive. core of who they really are. It’s my passion, purpose, and one piece of huge joy in my life.

Why? Because women who are fully alive, loving life, and in-tune with themselves create a ripple effect of contagious joy, living on purpose, and absolutely stunning beauty & abundance. Selfishly, I want to live in that world. J But, I want you there with me, too.

LH: Have you ever worked with women who have chronic illnesses? How does or would that impact your recommendations or tools for success?

KDO: Aside from my mother who has had MS for my entire life, I’ve worked with numerous women who have autoimmune diseases, thyroid issues, endometriosis, IBS, infertility, cancer survivors, and more. And while I no longer offer 1-on-1 nutrition coaching as it was too intense after caretaking for my mother for so long, it actually gave me an incredible foundation of insight and tools necessary to support and make true lifestyle changes (long haul baby) not just for a couple weeks or months.

Chronic illness, stress and emotional turmoil can wreck havoc on our bodies, emotions, relationships, purpose, and ultimately happiness. Without addressing ALL of these areas, we never really feel better. Once I started to boost the support, insight, tools, and understanding around the mindset…women started to have extreme self-care, sense of control, reduction in pain, and honestly sheer joy in their lives. I learned to we have to focus just as much, if not more, on our SOUL food as we do food food. J

LH: You have shared with us that your mom has MS. What is it like supporting a parent with a chronic illness?

KDO: I’d love to say it’s a joy and easy, but it’s not. It’s hard as hell. There are days of optimism and laughter and days of straight up fear, unknown, guilt, sadness, loneliness, and helplessness. Over the years I’ve garnered more insight, been in the rodeo a little longer, and know more of what to expect…but I wrote an article that chronicled a specific incidence and need for self-care and shift in perspective here: http://katiedenouden.com/blog/the-art-of-holiday-self-care-i-e-grinch-prevention-plan

LH: What have you learned from your mom’s battle with MS?

KDO: I could probably share hundreds, but the main one’s that come to mind at this point in my journey are these:

  1. Self-care: This is crucial. Just as much for the person with chronic illness as it is for the caretakers and those surrounding them. Often times it’s those who are so busy taking care of others, worrying about others needs/perceptions, and letting the stress build within who experience chronic illnesses. If we allow self-care to be a priority instead of attempting to prove our worth through what we take on, accomplish, or say yes to…we allow ourselves to be awake and in full-service (not ½ asleep) in our lives.
  2. Live in the moment: we never know when life may end. Living in what ifs, shoulds, regrets, fears, etc., keep us from ever truly living life, loving fully, and giving back to the world. Experiencing my mother’s decline of living and the prospect of death from such a young age has given me an incredible appreciation for truly living, taking ownership of how I experience my life, and finding the joy in every day moments… I call it taking the ordinary to extraordinary.
  3. Design vs. Default: we can’t always choose what will happen in our lives but we can always choose how we respond and perceive. This in and of itself gives us the freedom to design our lives and our direct experience.

LH: We meet lots of resilient people through Lori’s Hands who have turned their challenges into triumphs/successes. Do you feel that your current work and happiness are in part due to trials you faced earlier in your life? How have you turned your own “darkness” into “light”?

KDO: Without a doubt, yes. Most of the people I truly admire who are doing incredible work in the world have been through some deeply hard and trying times. It’s in these moments we get a choice – default into despair or choose to stand and change the world. For a time in my past I choose despair and when I could no longer sit in it, I choose to rise up, take a stand, and design a new path…leading to my purpose to show the way for others to come out of that place of feeling controlled, depressed, guilty, lonely, dark, and disillusioned and CHOOSE joy, freedom, bravery, happiness to truly come ALIVE.

It’s taking radical responsibilities for our own lives so that we can share contagious joy (and support) for everyone we encounter.

LH: Many of our readers are current college students or recent graduates. What advice do you have for young people who want to be healthy during chaotic, transitional periods in their lives?

KDO: Create basic non-negotiables. What are the absolute 3-5 things you must have in order to be grounded, nourished, and awake in your life? For me… I need 8 hours of sleep, the right foods for MY body, tons of water, intellectual/spiritual stimulation, and a morning and bedtime routine/ritual (includes meditation and gratitude practice). I do not budge on these or try to negotiate. With these basic pieces, I feel grounded, at peace, and fully able to be myself in the world – in chaotic times AND in support my mother and her needs. Don’t be afraid to be selfish in your self-care. There is no shame or guilt in putting your own oxygen mask on first SO THAT you can fully be of service to others. If you don’t…you’ll crash and burn and be of no service to anyone.

More on Katie’s journey:

I love to give this visual: Think back to a time (or now) where you felt fully in the moment, giddy with excitement and adventure, not a care in the world about your body, food, career, or in this case health of a loved one…but rather killer confidence and contagious joy. Connected. You weren’t held back. You weren’t stuck. You weren’t confused. You weren’t weighed down. You were happy. wild. brave. free. ALIVE.

Got that moment?

Now surround yourself in that moment with thousands of other women cheering you on (go ahead, picture it), seeking together the great life, and celebrating your awesomeness (no comparison, no competing). Feels pretty amazing, right?

A lot of women try treadmills, cleansing and discipline to get to this feeling and “place”… and feel something is wrong with themselves when they can’t stick to it or frustrated when they do get “there” and still aren’t happy and FREE. I found for myself that when I started to uncover who I really am, unleashed my desires, owned my worth and beauty, treated my body fabulously, and lived the way I thought I would live when I got “there” (instead of waiting on the weight, perfect health of a family member, career, man, permission, etc.)…THEN I started shedding excess weight (body + soul), being well-fed (food + soul), and feeling free and ALIVE.

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The Daughter of a Fighter

When my mother died I was only eight. For a while, my life was a blur and I really didn’t know what to do. I was numb, and did not know how to function without the love of my nurturing mother.

It’s almost nine years later, and I still feel desolate. Now that I’m maturing, it’s almost hitting me harder than before. I am competing for colleges, taking rigorous classes, and I’m now realizing how much my mom’s death impacted my personality and the drive that I have today.

My high school experience has not been the best. I was a slacker freshman and sophomore year. I became determined that junior year would be different. I have kept my grades up and become focused on getting myself accepted into a college of choice. Seeing my mom battle MS and then cancer taught me that we are stronger than we think. I want to honor her memory, and make her proud.

I have many memories of me and my mom hanging out and being fools together. I remember one warm summer day, when we were at my brother’s little league game. My mom was very involved in our community, and that day she was working the concession stand. During the game, it began to massively storm outside. I remember as it began to pelt hail, my mom ushering me and my brother into the stand, and the three of us huddling inside the little shack together. I’m so thankful to have memories of her comfort, her strength, and her sense of humor.

Just as she had cared for us, we had the responsibility of taking care of her once she got really sick. Every day I would come home from school and take care of my dying mother. I’d help with her personal care, adjust her if she was uncomfortable, and make her as happy as she could be. My grandmother and my dad had the brunt of the caregiving responsibility, but my brother and I still attempted to help however we could. I like to think that the experience changed me, and that I’ve carried a piece of that sense of responsibility with me from a young age.

Just as we worked in those last months of her life to do everything in our power to bring her comfort, I live today with her always in the front of my mind – trying to shape a life she would be proud of, and that I can be proud of too.

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Written by: Erin Whitten

Erin Whitten is currently a junior in high school from Revere, Massachusetts. She has a strong passion for writing and is a blogger for Huffington Post! We were so happy that she shared her story with the Lori’s Hands community. To read another one of Erin’s pieces, please visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erin-whitten/losing-a-parent_b_5446293.html.