Ever notice how the same place looks and feels so different depending on where you are at that moment in your life?
When I walk the beach of Long Boat Key Florida, I am always struck with the significance of how experiences change everything. You see, Long Boat Key has been our retreat from the cold Midwest winters for over the last 14 years for vacations. My parents rented their first condominium right on the beach, many lifetimes ago. It is a magical smooth and sandy crescent shaped beach with miles to walk. The beach is its own unique universe, with a pulsing heart of the sea, cascading waves that pound endlessly and intoxicating smells of salt. There is a rhythm to this universe, to this effervescent scene.
And, just as the seaside’s waves uncoil differently day by day, so does my own personal life with each visit.
My very first walk on this magical shoreline entailed me and my first baby boy. The waves crash, the wind blows, the sand is soft, and I snuggle with my baby, a monumental moment in time. I had waited five agonizing years to welcome this baby to the world. Like many women, I always knew I wanted to have children. However, my journey into motherhood looked a lot different than I had ever imagined. I endured five painful IVF rounds, two endo surgeries, and one miscarriage. In the end, it was determined that surrogacy would be my safest option. While this was not what I had planned, I was lucky to have two healthy boys via our angel, a surrogate mother, Sarah.
Another winter, and another Long Boat vacation. Now, I walk the beach with my second baby boy, also born from our Angle Sarah. My baby is wrapped close to my chest, as his two-year-old brother runs just a few feet ahead.
The following winter, darkness strikes my family, and when we make this year’s pilgrimage to Long Boat, I can barely find the strength to make it through the airport. You see, I went from being a full-time mom, to a full-time patient. I am now in the middle of fighting cancer. I am 35 years old, with two babies under three, and now a colon cancer patient. Escaping the cold this winter feels critical for my survival. We find an oncologist to give me my chemotherapy so we can stay at the beach for an extended period. Yet, during this stay, I cannot look into the depths of the ocean; its vastness is unsettling to me. I am too weak to share in the ocean’s greatness. I cannot walk the beach. I can only lay from the balcony and admire the beach from afar.
With luck, science, medicine, love, family, and my own determination, I made it back for winters to follow. I am committed to being not just a survivor. I dream of being a warrior that thrives.
The initial years after my cancer treatment were like riding a tightrope. You believe you are healthy and clean, but every single cough, appointment, and ache, can take you off course quickly. But we preserved. During those years, I was the one running down to the beach with my boys. We often kick off our shoes and giggle as we run barefoot in the wide-open space. I feel freedom in my healthy body, having been released from the prison of chemotherapy and surgeries. My body is finally all mine again. Free from illness and suffering. Now, I look straight into the ocean, and more than ever before, understand how grand our universe is and how precious each of our lives are. I am often am stopped in awe of my gratitude to be alive and shock for what I just incurred.
Several years later, I am faced with yet another vicious hurricane, as my 18-year marriage dissolved. Not what I had envisioned, yet once again I learned to process and face life’s hardships, changed by the experience, and even more awakened. I now find myself visiting my parents often alone, as my boys are with their dad. I remind myself once again, I am strong, and I can do this. I know it is not our problems that define us, it is who we decide to be in the face of it and how we then recover.
Last winter, after facing infertility, cancer, and divorce, while once again visiting my parents in Long Boat Key, I launch my own Life Coaching business, www.hopefirsel.com. I find new energy, as if the sun shines brightly once again. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamt of a career that is focused on supporting and nourishing others. I now take my years of education, and own personal triumphs through trauma, and I am ready to serve. I am humbled by the privilege of witnessing my clients as they find their own strength and create action steps to be a warrior in their own lives.
This upcoming winter I will be working from the same beach in Long Boat Key Florida. I will be zooming with my women clients as they determine who they will be and how they will preserve through their own rough waters. And all the while, I will be there with them, by their side, holding them accountable to their action plans, and witnessing as they walk their own path towards of empowerment and self-love.