I paused on the step and looked up at the building, so much had changed since I walked up these stairs many months ago. My husband caught up with me and asked if I was alright, I assured him I was. He gently touched his hand to the small of my back and lovingly guided me up the last few stairs.
The inside looked just like I knew it would, high ceiling, lots of glass and a beautiful view. My first time here had been nine months prior, the beginning of a journey that was ending tonight. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was as emotional for the other twenty-nine people in my class.
We were the Leadership Lumpkin County graduating class of 2022. Also known as LLC.
Now that may not mean anything to you. And it’s not the name of the group that is important, it’s the experience.
Walking into the room tonight was so much different that it had been at the start of this journey. For me it had not only been an opportunity to get to know my new community better, but it was also a part of my healing. I was proud of how far I had come.
The first night I joined this group of what was to become a new circle of friends, I was in the last stages of breast cancer treatment. I had postponed my chemotherapy for a week so that I could attend that first night kick-off event and hopefully have enough energy to get through it. My hair was very short and somewhat splotchy, and I felt certain everyone would know it was because I had cancer.
They asked us to gather for a kick-off group picture, a moment I was dreading. I didn’t like how I looked, chemo had taken a toll on my body, so I successfully maneuvered myself to the back row and tried to hide as much as possible. When I saw the picture later it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it would be.
Our first full day of class would be two days after a chemo treatment. Not ideal timing, but my hope was that I could push through on the steroid bounce that came from the medications they gave me with treatment. I was usually good for a couple days before the real sickness set in.
That first morning of class I held it together. We learned about each other and the program we were about to embark on. They gave us our name badges and a binder to hold all the information that we would get over the next nine months. My favorite part were the bios of the people in our class. I studied those bios before and after each class to try and remember everyone’s name. Chemo made me forget things easily, especially names.
By the afternoon of the first day I was wiped out. The pain that I always experienced after treatment had shown up as expected and I couldn’t hold it together any longer. I excused myself from the afternoon activities. The few people who heard my reason for leaving were shocked. Apparently, I looked better than I felt.
Three months into the program I completed my chemo. Gradually my brain got clearer, my energy got stronger, and I started to look healthy again. By then I had made some wonderful new friends. We had been to ranger camp together, volunteered together, had to give speeches in front of each other, attempted to solve some pretty daunting problems together and learned how to collaborate. I had been up before daylight to help with a ConnectAbility 5K and cleaned up after the Gold Rush parade. I got to help little kids have breakfast with Santa, assist adults at the CHP free clinic and show senior citizens they are not forgotten.
And every time it helped me heal a little bit more.
Now here I was in this room once again. At the end of my LLC journey.
I’m healthy, happy and ticking off everyone’s name in my head. Okay I’m doing the name thing because I still forget…but tonight I’m able to do it.
There is also a little sadness. Each month I had looked forward to seeing my classmates and learning more about my community. Now that was over. I don’t expect to lose touch with everyone, and I’ll definitely keep learning about my community, but it won’t be the same.
It has also been a part of my cancer journey. I had watched myself go from unable to make it through a day to strong and purposeful again.
Healing from illness isn’t just about good test results and finishing treatment. It’s also about learning to be patient with yourself and your recovery. It’s about being present to the moments in your life.
Tonight I was being very present and grateful for the experience that had been my LLC class. I didn’t hide in the back for the photo, and I was recognized for having the third highest amount of volunteer hours in our class. Not bad for a woman who couldn’t get through the first day.
My husband turned and gave me a smile. He had told me how proud he was of me, and he was smiling because he knew what was coming…I was going to have to find a new adventure!