Cowgirls and Chemo Pills

Hi friends! I’ve been getting requests for an update….so I’ll try to hit the high points. First, I wanted to talk about a retreat I had the opportunity to attend last weekend in Montana. It’s called “Cowgirls vs. Cancer” and is put on by Big Sky Yoga Retreats ….and a TON of amazing volunteers and sponsors. The premise of the retreat is to allow women with Breast Cancer the ability to experience “holistic healing through yoga and horses in the wilds of Montana.” When my friend Jill told me about the retreat I thought “I grew up riding horses….I’ve done some yoga….what’s not to like?!” FYI- this company has retreats all over the world….if you’re curious you can check them out on instagram @cowgirlyoga or on the web at: https://bigskyyogaretreats.com/

Anyway, as I was packing for the trip, I found myself getting a little nervous. Not only was my suitcase OBNOXIOUSLY large for a long weekend, but I hadn’t met any of the other 10 women that would be on the trip (except my friend Jill from college….more on her later). What would the other women be like? Would I like them? Would they like me? Most of all, I was concerned about the side effects from my chemo pills while being away from home. All worries aside, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try something new. #AllTheThings

As expected, the “bag shaming” began early courtesy of American Airlines 😉 In my defense, Montana can experience all 4 seasons in one day and we were encouraged to “overpack”……so in that respect, I nailed it. All things considered, I felt pretty good about being “only” 5 pounds over the weight limit. See exhibit A below. (Tip: weigh your bag before you leave the house).

Bag Shaming at its finest 😉 BEND YOUR KNEES.

As I flew into Bozeman views like this greeted me……

That’ll do thanks. After we all arrived, I got to see my friend Jill -who I hadn’t seen since college (unless you count FaceTime). Jill and I were in the same sorority (KD), had the same major, both went to law school, and we became attorneys after graduation. We also shared another commonality: within two years of each other, we were both diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic Breast Cancer. My former sorority sister is now a “BC sister”. Upon arrival, my goal was NOT to be a weirdo and cry like a lunatic when I saw her for the first time. When I finally did see Jill in person, it felt like no time had passed. She was the same witty, dry, girl I always knew. Jill has a sweet husband, a beautiful 3 year old daughter….and has been battling this horrible disease for over 3 years. Jill explained that her latest scans showed that her body was clear of cancer (yay!)….but the doctors are continuing to work on getting the brain tumors under control. She’s been through hell and still has a great attitude. She’s pretty amazing and if you have time to pray for her….I’d consider it a personal favor 😉 Pic below of Jill and I from our first afternoon at the retreat:

Later that evening, we met the other women on the retreat and I was shocked that all but two we’re also Stage IV “mets” as it’s called. Granted, there weren’t any “Stage IV Triple Negative” people like me (hence, the unicorn). BUT, there were plenty of women with their own “unicorn” of a diagnosis. About 5 minutes into the happy hour I noticed that all of the women were smiling, laughing, and so excited to get to know each other. A few women really stood out to me and I felt like we connected almost immediately. The nerves eased as I settled into what felt like a really awesome adult summer camp. (….and I’m pretty sure the volunteers outnumbered the “campers” by about 3 to 1.).

My first full day of the retreat coincidentally ended up falling on my one year “Cancerversary” which felt appropriate. Obviously I documented the milestone in mermaid leggings for posterity 😉 The unicorn balloon also felt fortuitous.

Fun fact: the necklace I’m wearing in the video (above) was the diamond from the engagement ring my dad’s brother (Bobby) gave my Aunt Annette. After Bobby passed at age 35, Aunt Annette had the ring made into a necklace and never took it off……until she gave it to me on my wedding day. My Uncle Bobby died before I was born so I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I do know he loved to travel. It makes me happy that I get to take the necklace on new adventures. I think Uncle Bobby would have liked that. Anyway, since I’ve been asked about the necklace several times I thought I would share. I digress. Back to Montana…….

The next few days in Montana were amazing. We went on early morning trail rides, groomed the horses, and did lots of yoga. Anyone who is on Xeloda (the kind of chemo pill I’m taking) will know how terrible the side effects can be. To that extent, yoga with burning feet and hands was admittedly challenging/painful at times…..but the instructors were so easy going and understanding. They would always say (in a very serene tone) “just take child’s pose anytime you need it”. DONE.

One of my favorite parts of the weekend was visiting a Norwegian Horse Farm…..yes you read that correctly. Because I’m a nerd, here’s a little info on the Fjord: “The Norwegian Fjord Horse is a relatively small but very strong horse breed from the mountainous regions of western Norway. It is agile and one of the oldest breed of horses.” There are ALL kinds of cool historical facts about these horses I won’t get into….but let me tell you….they are C-U-T-E. Like, seriously cute. I also appreciate that they are “small but strong”……like me 😉 Get ready for Fjord cuteness overload:

https://sunnysidefjords.org/ or on the ‘Gram @sunnysidefjords

Marry Poppins does Montana.
If this isn’t a Unicorn I don’t know what is.

There was also a wooly Fjord donkey hanging around…..I think his name was Wilber…..or Walter?….I can’t remember but it was something dignified. Summary: ADORABLE.

The larger horse is a Belgian, appropriately named Big Joe.

This is Wendy, moments after she sampled the flowers on my hat. She seems pleased.

Those same Fjords took us on a wagon ride later that day (pics below). Another fun fact about them…..they’re always hungry no matter how much you feed them. I can relate 🙂

In the evenings we went to “restorative” yoga classes in a beautifully restored barn (PJ’s and wine encouraged)- which was right up my alley. (Full disclosure….I’m not drinking while on chemo pills. But, my doctors have said an occasional glass of wine is totally fine depending on how I feel). Anyway, on the way to “restorative” yoga one night the sun was setting and I had a quiet moment with the horses on the ranch. They are such amazing creatures. I did my best to be still and embrace the moment. I remember feeling so much gratitude and joy that God gave me the opportunity to be at this retreat. Sometimes it feels like Cancer takes so much from you (and that is true at times)…..but when I stop and look around …..I see that this diagnosis has given me so much more than it has taken away. I’ve met so many wonderful people and had experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. For that I’m thankful.

Gentle giants.

In an effort to keep things “real” (Cancer is NOT glam by any means). I will elaborate on the Xeloda side effects. While I was in Montana my feet and hands were throbbing and on FIRE every night when I tried to go to sleep. I’m not exaggerating here.

I was sharing a room with Jill at the retreat and there were several occasions when I woke her up in the middle of the night asking “what fresh hell is this!?” (Big Bang Theory reference). One night Jill had the brilliant idea of putting one of those freezer blocks in the bed with me so I could ice my hands and feet as needed….which did help a little. I also put a particular lotion on my hands/feet and sleep with a fresh pair of cotton gloves/socks every night while I’m on the chemo pills. Just in case there are other Xeloda gals reading this……when in doubt, go full cotillion.

The last morning of the trip we started the day with sunrise meditation. If you’ve met me……you could probably guess that meditation is NOT my strong suit (just ask my husband). However, after trying it…..I get it. I definitely see the benefit in quieting your mind and not being “on” at all times (I’m certainly guilty of that). Pictures from our last sunrise meditation below.

Love our @k.deer yoga pants!

And some more pics from that morning……#Extra as always 🙂

Picture below: our group of fighters, survivors, and amazing volunteers. Thank you to Margaret and each person who gave their time, energy, and talent to make this retreat possible.

Our last night at the ranch we had dinner together followed by a bonfire near our cabins. I loved spending time with the women and our wranglers Henry and Molly. It was a perfect way to end the weekend…and one that I will never forget.

Fun Fact: The stars are brighter in Montana.

6 thoughts on “Cowgirls and Chemo Pills

  1. Your trip sounds incredible! And so spiritual, filled with love joy and camaraderie! Your sense of humor Holly is so astounding! I’m reading this cracking up and also wanting to rush to your side and hold ice packs on your hands and feet! I can only imagine how $7-@?!’&! awful that must be!!! but still you rise above it somehow like Grace under fire! Literally in this case! 😢I’m so sorry you have to deal with that! My sweet friend! 😦
    But as always you keep an upper lip and carry on! And that’s why your a survivor! 💪🏻🙌🏻💗
    Looking forward to hearing the good news of your having put these chemo pills behind you forever and always! 👍Thank you for sharing your experience! So happy you were there! 🙂
    Prayers coming your way and for your sweet friend Jill! Love you friend!
    Linda xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My mind, spirit and soul needed this awesome story of sisterhood today. We are all so thrilled that you were able to experience such an amazing adventure! What an amazing place filled with furry fun and people with true servants hearts. Thank you to all who made this possible for my little sister to experience! Today, I am in AWE of our AUNT HOLLY #HOLLYANNSTRONG.

    Liked by 1 person

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