D – Day Celebration

I’ve lovingly referred to October 18th as “D-Day” or Diagnosis Day. Rather than dread this one year mark, I decided to make it a celebratory day! I invited some of my friends for a cookout and fun!
We enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers and sides, and pink cupcakes. We also didn’t forget the pink starbursts! 🙂
I was too busy enjoying my friends to even take pictures really but the sky did show off in all sorts of gorgeous pinks and purples.

My mom had also sent me the cutest flowers at work earlier that day!

My sweet arrangement from Twigs

I am so thankful for the support of my friends and family throughout this whole process and it meant so much to have them by my side on this day to make it a celebration rather than a difficult and trying day.
I’d highly encourage you to find a way to celebrate your one year rather than dread it, if you are also a breast cancer thriver!

One Year Reflection

A year ago I sat with my mom by my side in a small room that seemed dark. The nurse had walked us back and then said it would be a few minutes while the Radiologist finished up a procedure.
Those were the longest minutes of my life – just waiting to hear the confirmation that I did have cancer. When the Radiologist came in, he confirmed that I did have breast cancer. I remember the room feeling that much smaller and darker in those moments. I had no idea what my future held at that time.
Luckily, I continued to have both my parents by my side to help me make decisions in those following weeks. For me, this only resulted in a bi-lateral mastectomy and now some drugs that I’ll be taking for ten years. 

While I knew I had the support of friends and family, I definitely remember feeling alone. Through my journey, I reached out on MeetUp to a Young Survivor’s group and ended up meeting someone to talk me through things and she has now become a great friend. Even through meeting others who have been through the process, I can say for myself, that it’s an emotional roller coaster. There are days where I’m absolutely fine, which I feel like is the majority of the time;but, then there are days where I still feel alone, days that I feel less than worthy, days that I look in the mirror and just start to cry.

The pink firetruck that we signed after giving our speech. Go check out their mission here.

Through this year, and thanks to my MeetUp friend, I volunteered on the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer committee. And, I even spoke with my mom at the kick-off breakfast. I was honored and met so many very special women.

The past year has definitely made me do a lot of reflection – I’ve learned who my true friends are, who I can count on no matter what, made new friends, made me realize what’s important and of value to me. I’ve also realized that a cancer diagnosis affects your whole life, not just the treatment periods. This has made me realize I need to check in with others (even if they haven’t been diagnosed with cancer), you never know what someone is going through – just a brief text message could change someone’s day (I know it has for me!). 

Here’s to the next year, to the other survivors, thrivers, and fighters!

Saving the Best for Last: Viñales

If we’re honest, everything that came after Trinidad just felt like a little bit of a let down. Not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable, but it just wasn’t Trinidad. There was something so special about our time in Trinidad that the final few days of our trip just lack that kind of feeling (minus our print making experience in Havana). That all changed when we made our way to Viñales. Our day spent in Viñales felt like the most authentic Cuban experience we had during our 10 days in Cuba. 

We chose to do the Airbnb experience with Arteaga. At 90 CUC per person, it was the most expensive experience we had during our trip. With that being said, once we broke down all the costs for transportation to and from Viñales (about 6 hours round trip), the admission costs for the cave, Prehistoric Rock, and Las Terrazas, along with the food and drink included, we felt like the cost was more than reasonable. 

Our first stop was the Las Terrazas, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. We learned about the development of this site and the way of life for the 1,000 people who live in the community. We stopped off at a beautiful lake, where we were given an informative introduction to the community and surrounding nature preserve. We also received our first of many beverages here. From the lake, we were driven up the mountain to see long range views.

Mountain top views from Las Terrazas

Our first stop in Viñales was at the Mirador of The Jazmines hotel. The views from here are some of the most beautiful views we had on our trip. The landscape is so distinct and unique that we’re certain we’ll never see anything like it anywhere else in the world. There were also these “statues” that spooked us a bit when they moved. We were taking pictures of these bronze statues when they moved and we realized they were in fact men painted as statues. 

As we drove through town, the charm here made us instantly wish we had more time to explore this area. Up next we stopped at a tobacco farm where we learned about cultivation and production of tobacco. Here we were also taught how to roll a cigar while we smoked cigars and enjoyed a drink. We also purchased more cigars and more coffee beans (I’m telling you the coffee in Cuba is amazing and I wish we could have brought back an endless supply). 

Our next stop on this tour- again so much we got to see on this experience- was the Indian Cave. It was a much shorter tour than I had originally expected. You walk a brief distance in the cave before you board a small little boat to tour the rest of the cave via water. It was beautiful and cool- a much need break from the August heat. When we were finished, Arteaga gave us time to do a little shopping and pick up a couple more souvenirs. 

Now the highlight of our trip was the authentic Cuban meal. Arteaga took us to his favorite country restaurant in the valley, Casa Barbaro. While we were given the option to choose from pork, steak, chicken, beef, etc., once we were given a taste of the fried pork on the grill there really wasn’t an option. We all ordered the pork, which came with a smorgasbord of additional Cuban sides including, a version of green bean salad, yucca, the best dang potatoes we’ve ever had, black beans, black beans and rice mixture, another side of rice, cucumbers, fruit, and god knows what else. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. It’s the kind of meal you hope to have on vacation and it was the kind of meal you salivate about long after your vacation is over. Lunch also included unlimited drinks, including a coconut water and rum concoction that did not skimp on the rum (and they even offered to add more).  Dessert was also included in lunch, but we had to opt out. That’s right…we couldn’t possibly eat anymore at that point and had to opt out of dessert!

Our lunch at Casa Barbaro!

Our Vinales visit concluded at the Prehistoric Mural. This beautiful mural, painted in bold, bright colors directly onto the side of a mountain was a perfect end cap to our trip. From the mural, there’s also more beautiful mountain views and yet another free drink. The pina colada here is seriously one of the best drinks we had. 

Prehistoric Mural

This day was truly a special way to end our time in Cuba. Viñales is a must stop and we definitely plan to return here on our next trip to Cuba.