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Gin Schaffer is a former higher education administrator and works part-time at MWHC's Regional Cancer Center as the Coordinator of Integrative Medicine. She lives in downtown Fredericksburg and enjoys walking and biking with her husband and 2 kids (especially if coffee is involved).



Pink Ribbon Journey

Pay It Forward

In late 2013, while living in Massachusetts, when the craze of Thanksgiving and the holidays were all around, my family and I finally made use of a Picture People gift card we received when Anna was born 2 years prior.  I love getting gift cards and then, almost immediately, I hate them for the work they cause me.  Anyways, the photo session turned out to be a lovely experience, and we got good pictures out of it (insta-Christmas Card!).  We even treated ourselves to a fancy Teppanyaki meal (at a place that fed kids for free on Sundays).  

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It was a quiet day at the Tokyo House, but we did share the table with another family - their children a good number of years older than ours (2 and 5 at the time).  It wasn't a complete disaster of a meal for us, but let's just say, the kids remember the fire on the table and have resisted my invitation to try Teppanyaki again.  I'm holding out hope because I just love it - and the sushi and sake too!  At the end of our meal, we learned that the family we had shared the table with paid for our meal.  They knew we had just had pictures taken (yes, we were a bit overdressed) and said they felt for us, remembering their parenting days with young children.  It was such a beautiful gesture, made even more special given the holiday season of 2013 was a difficult one, our first without Steve's mom who had passed away in October.

This generous gift really stuck with Steve and me and we talked about how important it was that we do the same for a family someday.  I'm proud of us for making good on our promise; opportunties are everywhere if you just take the time to look for them. Of course, we had no idea that our world was about to change as we learned about my cancer that following May.  When we moved to Fredericksburg, we became that family that people wanted to help and we are deeply grateful for it.  So, it's time to pay it forward again!

I want to share with you what I've been doing since I arrived to Fredericksburg and I hope that it inspires you to get out there in the community and help where you see a need.  

Last fall, I knew that I couldn't just go to treatment, go home, and stay isolated.  So, I started volunteering at Mary Washington Hospital.  I got to help with so many great projects; it felt wonderful to be making an impact on patient care.  After completing chemotherapy, I felt that I could test out the waters a bit with working part-time and so, I applied to be a substitute teacher.  Honestly, I would've volunteered there too, but, of course, earning my own money felt good again.  It was extremely gratifying to be present in the schools and have the opportunity to talk to students, teachers, and administrators about what their daily lives are really like.  My own biases were challenged and I gained a new understanding of my role as parent in the school-teacher-parent-student continuum.

I did love the interaction with students while substitute teaching.  But, I knew that it wasn't the long-term fit for me.  While volunteering for the hospital, I felt a pull, a need to further explore helping people, especially those diagnosed with cancer.  I also was driven to do more volunteering and fund-raising for breast cancer and other health-related issues.  The staff at Mary Washington Hospital were so encouraging to me and connected me with various people who are doing such great work out there in the world!  Save_the_Tatas_Logo.jpg

I feel incredibly fortunate to now be working at Mary Washington Healthcare's Regional Cancer Center as the Coordinator for Integrative Medicine.  I'll talk about my new job in the future, but for now, please look at the awesome things I get to do this month - join me, won't you?

September 12 - Pink Heals Color Rush 5K - I'm one of the volunteers that gets to blast people with pink powder!

September 17 - Support Gin's Wicked Walkers and DANCE! - Come to Dance Trance and support a great cause too.

September 18 - Fairy Godmother Project's Stardust Ball - Please attend this event or send someone in your place!

October 3 - Mary Washington Healthcare's Power of Pink Walk - Proud to be part of the team bringing this event to the community.

October 4 -  I'll be heading back to Boston to say thank-you to my doctors and to walk with my team, Gin's Wicked Walkers.  Please consider sponsoring my team (or any of the other organizations I've mentioned above).  

My family and I have come a long way since last year's walk.  We look forward to writing new chapters in our Pink Ribbon (and every other color too) Journey.

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When Mount Vernon is in Your Living Room

Below is the only house (and home) I ever knew.  My older sister has memories of the different places my family lived during the time my dad was going back and forth between Andrews Air Force Base in DC/Maryland and Griffis AFB in New York (now closed).  But, all my childhood memories start and end here...

8305_Capture.JPGMy Home Sweet Home in Vienna, VAI don't think I realized how special it was to have that feeling of security, the innocence of thinking all my treasures were safe in that magical place called home. As a child, I also felt pretty confident we weren't moving anywhere.  In contrast, Steve and I have had to convince our children we aren't moving again.  They're sponges, they've seen and heard a lot about all the places their parents have lived, so if I were them, I would think we were circus people too. I hope that they start feeling more secure as we get settled and create a home; of course, the reality is that they will create their own worlds, in their own unique ways and on their own schedules.

When I met Steve, I was up for adventure, but it was hard for me each time we moved. Even with this, what is to be our final (not including our retirement tiki hut), 10th move, I was still pretty anxious about it.  Steve should have the title of "Mover: Special Ops."  The minute any move was decided, he went into hyper-drive.  I admire him for his focus, energy, and positive attitude - it's what has made for relatively successful moves all these years. Sure, we had movers here in the new house until 3am, but, I can laugh at that now knowing I won't have to move for another 30 years...right?

IMG_20150806_152318.jpgMy Tower of Redemption

One of the things I discovered I had issues with over the past, umm 20 years, is that cardboard boxes have always been wherever we were because we knew we would be leaving again.  Some were used for storage, but some were flattened and stored.  It took me awhile to realize those damn boxes were my anxiety trigger!  There they were, just staring at me, reminding me of a pending move.  I avoided the basement like the plague in our last home.  So, I told Steve that my goal was to rid this house of all cardboard boxes.  I have never been so happy to recycle!  The family has been notified that nothing goes to the basement unless it's in one of these bins (and nothing goes in these bins unless it has plans for 2016).

I've had trouble unpacking, figuring out where to put stuff, especially because I had so much anxiety packing it up in the first place.  I recognize that I have this need for things to be "perfect" and yes, I know that there is no way they ever will be.  The mess of unpacked boxes, toys thrown about and unmatched socks (like everywhere!) is proof we are living, that we are o.k., and that we will be fine.  

I usually think of my favorite organizational guru, Peter Walsh when I'm about to tackle another corner of disorganization and clutter.  I like his approach to really thinking about your stuff and how that fits into your overall goals in life.  Although it's taking me more time, I've learned a lot about how I hope, I want us to create our home.  I also really like these 10 questions, by blogger, Mandi Ehman; thoughtful reflection is something we just don't do enough of - about our stuff, about our friends, our relationships, and ourselves.

So, my mother, with her infinite wisdom, knew just what to do to bring some joy into all this clutter.  She came on Tuesday with a delivery from our dear family friends (I call them Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Gene).  They had fixed our childhood dollhouse - "our" meaning whenever my oder sister let me play with it.  It was a Mount Vernon dollhouse kit from the 1970s.  Of course, we have no room for it, right now, anyway.  But, it doesn't matter. To see Anna and Jack's excited reaction was everything.  So, for now, it's proudly sitting in the middle of our living room.  A great place for the kids to play with it and a gentle reminder for me to relax and enjoy the childhood memories being created right in front of me. 

IMG_20150806_143139.jpgA Little Piece Of Home

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When It Rains...well, you know

Is your summer fading fast like mine?  I just re-read my last post, Working at Life, Inc., an ironic reminder for me to appreciate each day for what it is and breathe, oh and don't waste time drinking bad coffee.

Since that last post, we moved into our new home.  It hasn't been the HGTV dream I had hoped for, but I'm still very much in love with this house and our neighborhood.  Our movers came late, as in 6 hours late and were in the home until 3am.  Then, as the summer weather became wacky in all its monsoon glory, our new home began to show its faults.  Leaks in the roof, water in the basement - all of a sudden those desired renovation projects we had in mind took a drastic turn.  And meanwhile, playing on the This Old House channel, we were notified that yes, your oil tank does need to be removed (soil samples were determined unsafe by VA-EPA).  Check this sucker out!

IMG_20150625_100409.jpgI can't believe that was under my house!

On June 17th, our son's 7th birthday, we got a call from Steve's sister.  We figured it was the annual, call from the family, singing "Happy Birthday", etc. but it wasn't.  Sadly, my sister-in-law was informing me that Steve's brother had a seizure and the brain injury and subseqent bleeding were severe; he died on June 18th.  Everything just stopped.

In that moment, watching Steve head to Pittsburgh for his brother's funeral, it was hard not to be sad and angry.  Steve has had a whirlwind of stress and grief thrown at him since August, 2013, really even earlier than that (both of his parents are deceased).  I struggle knowing that my cancer was a part of that and although I know I wasn't to blame for getting sick, I sometimes wish I could give him this past year back - among other things.  I know how badly he wants to make this house a home - our ducks really need to find their row soon!

When my mom and sister accompanied me to The Today Show in October, 2014, I was just about to end the really tough chemotherapy portion of my treatment plan.  I told them that what I really wanted at the end of my treatment was for us to all go to a beach house in the Outer Banks.  We hadn't done something like that since my sister and I were teenagers and I thought it was the perfect way to celebrate my hopeful remission (and my mom's birthday).

We stayed at a great house, on the beach during July 4th week.  We didn't see one shark (thankfully), but we did see plenty of dolphins!  This vacation was exactly what I had envisioned - everyone truly relaxed and decompressed.  I owe so much of my recovery journey to my mother - she's a real gem!  It was exciting coming back from the beach knowing that this was the week that I would celebrate my very last infusion treatment.  I've been in that chair from July 2014 until July 2015.

IMG_20150630_132034.jpgSara Ann - Mother to All

IMG_20150704_130748.jpgNags Head, NC - July 4, 2015

A year ago, I was out-of-my-mind scared at the road I had ahead of me.  Each and every one of us has different paths with various obstacles to face.  Remember Nelson Mandela's words, "It Always Seems Impossible Until It's Done."  Now, Go Ring That Bell!

 

IMG_20150710_145309.jpgTeam Gin!

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Working at Life, Inc.

A little while ago, Steve, the kids, and I were heading out to meet up with some friends and we all got in a huge argument.  It was a dash of Steve not really wanting to go, add in the kids not really feeling comfortable with where we were going, and throw in me being a raging breast cancer survivor who just started hormone-replacement-therapy.  I really felt like the whole family was plotting against me and I just lost it.  The argument ended with me asking (o.k. begging/demanding) for them to attend this "playdate" for me.  I felt bad about it and I was thankful that they kept it together when we met up with our friends.

Later that night, Steve and I had a chance to talk about the fight.  I said some pretty mean things that definitely warranted an apology and he too recognized the role he played in escalating the argument.  I wanted to blame my outburst on the medications, but I also knew I was struggling with my identities changing and shifting ever-so rapidly.  Mother, wife, patient, volunteer, daughter, sister, and employee(?).  As we were talking, Steve said something that really got my attention and has stuck with me to this day.  He said, "I'm a work in progress too, you know."

I try to write in my journal daily, write blog posts, and seek out my support networks regulary, but Steve goes and sums life up beautifully in one sentence!

This past week, we've had a lot of our "work" to celebrate.  We celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary and 20th college reunion at Mary Washington.  I was nervous for the reunion, the anticipation of seeing people from the distant past coupled with my ability to feel and be crappy at the drop of a hat was just a little scary.  But, then I remembered what Steve said and I felt comforted by the knowledge that everyone is a "work in progress" - even if they don't know it!

11312600_10153416077076289_9070515572836794655_o.jpgCelebrating 17th Wedding Anniversary at UMW Reunion Weekend

img037.jpgFall 1994, Monroe Hall, MWC

Next week, we move into what will be our long-term work project - a new house.  Steve and I have been HGTV and This Old House addicts for quite some time; this house will give us our biggest homeowning challenge and hopefully, the last.  It's amazing how much those DIY shows influence you - our selection of bathroom tile sounded like an existential crisis and the discussion of how white we wanted a white wall versus a white cabinet was mind-numbing!  Steve has done a tremendous amount of work on the house and even though we still have lots to do, that's o.k.  I'm enjoying this renovation challenge with him and giving this gift to ourselves and the kids is priceless.

I hope that whatever you have going on in your lives, you recognize that being a work in progress means you are still learning and growing and that's a beautiful thing.  Remember, be patient -  "It's about the journey, not the destination."

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Well, Hello Aunt Flo

My apologies to any of my male readers as this post may scare you, but hang in there, as husbands and perhaps fathers of daughters, I hope my story provides you with a little guidance and some laughs.  And to my female readers, whether your own OB/GYN health is changing or you are embarking on a journey with your own daughters, I hope this too supports you in that path.  Happy Mother's Day!

I've had reason lately to be thinking about my history of menstrual periods.  I'm supporting my sister as she helps her daughter face her fears of growing up.  My niece is heading into the sixth grade next year and just doesn't like all this stuff she's learning in health class!  Ironically, I'm like an 8th grader all over again because my body is trying to adjust after being in treatment for a year. 

Do you remember when you got your first period?  I sure do.  I was 13, in my bedroom, excited to be heading out the next day for a youth group beach trip, and I knew something wasn't right.  I think most young females' first reaction would be horror when they realize they are bleeding.  Additional fright came when I realized I had to be in a bathing suit the next day.  I remember quite vividly yelling for my mother. Because I have an older sister, I think my mom had an ease about knowing exactly what to do - I was in shock, looking at the pads and thinking tampons did what?!?  

My sister and I were also pretty lucky to have a father that didn't shy away from helping us.  Our dad helped us feel "normal" about getting our periods - the topic wasn't taboo.  He was our shopper - the coupon king!  Our dad knew when "the time of the month" had come and was famous for yelling out, "Do I need to buy you ladies any "equipment"?"  To this day, my sister and I still laugh about that (he died in 1997).

A month ago, during our spring break vacation, I found myself in an all too familiar situation. I was not prepared for the onset of a period after a long hiatus.  My chemo and radiation are over and I've begun Tamoxifen (Hormone Replacement Therapy).  I would say my lack of preparation was more denial than anything.  I'm still trying to get my head wrapped around remission, life after cancer.  So, we had to make some detours to get me situated; trying to find a drug store in the small towns of South Carolina was a little rough.  My mother was traveling with us and she said to me, "so, how bad is it?"  I looked at her and said, I have one word for you, "Seattle."

In the spring of 2009, I traveled to Seattle to attend a conference for student affairs professionals.  Luckily for me, my mom wanted to come to help with Jack, who was 10 months old at the time.  And, to add to the fun, my sister and her daughter (5 years old at the time) came along too.  I definitely enjoyed that great benefit of breastfeeding where your hormones take over and make your period hang back for a bit, waiting for you to do your thing.  Well, Jack and I were starting to part ways in the land of boobyville, so my body figured, we've waited long enough, it's period time!

I woke up in the middle of the night to find that I had pretty much destroyed the lovely Hotel Monaco's bed linens.  For what I did next, I don't have any justification for my behavior other than to say I was so scared at the thought of what the housekeepers would find (it's like I was 13 all over again!).  I quickly woke up my mom, who was sleeping with me, tore the sheets off, ran to the bathtub and tried to wash the sheets.  Somehow, between washing the sheets, trying to clean myself, and using the toilet, I flooded the place.  The toilet was overflowing and I think I had got the sheets so damp, they couldn't hold the water.  My frantic pace must have made me look like someone who was trying to cover up a murder.  There was nothing left to do, but call for help.  I had to face my fears.

I know now after meeting that maintenance guy at 2am, Hotel Monaco has seen much worse.  There is always someone, somewhere that has seen, heard, and done much worse.  

What I've come to realize about my recent spring break fiasco is that what it all means is that I'm alive.  I'm moving forward.  No matter what embarrassing, humiliating experience I go through in life, I will survive it, even laugh about it.  And I know my niece is absolutely counting on me to prove it.

 

 

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