For All The Warriors

This month, I had the incredible honor of delivering the keynote speeches at two Relay for Life events. I’m new to Relay and, honestly, I was blown away. I was blown away by the commitment and passion, and by the awe-inspiring expressions of love.

I just thought I’d share one of my speeches with you. Whether you’re a survivor, a caregiver, or someone who has been touched by cancer in some way, this one is for you. This one is for all the warriors…


I have to admit, I don’t really feel worthy to stand up here and speak. I don’t feel worthy because I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know about cancer, loss or survivorship. In fact, most all of you know significantly more about surviving than I do. So instead I’ll tell you something that all of us know too well: cancer sucks.

But the way I see it each of us have two choices in life. And the choice that we make has the potential to change the course of history, to change the human condition, and to change the course of all of our lives for the better.

Our first choice is to be afraid. To be afraid of losing the fight. To be afraid of losing the future we’d dreamed of. To be afraid of losing a loved one. And to be afraid of losing our own battles.

And although we know that fear stifles us and keeps us from our happiness, so often being afraid feels like our only choice.

But all of us here tonight know that we don’t have to be afraid, and we don’t have to let fear decide our fate. Because all of us here understand that our other choice in life is the choice to gather our strength…and to fight — To fight with everything we have against the disease that has both dimmed and extinguished many of our brightest lights.

And just by being here tonight, I know for certain, that each and every one of you have chosen to fight.

Each and every one of you have chosen to fight for a cure, for remission, for survivorship, and for each of those bright lights that have burned out before their time.

So it is an honor for me to be here tonight among such a brave group of warriors.

And it’s been my bittersweet fortune to come from a long line of warriors. My Grandma Phyllis was a warrior. My grandpa Kevin was a warrior. My great uncle Lou was a warrior. Recently, my great uncle Chuck became a warrior too.

And just like all of you, my dad was also warrior. He was a thinker, a leader, and someone who never stopped fighting for what he believed in. In his final year, my dad shared his story and much of himself on our blog, The Nancarrow Project, where he wrote that “it is far better to good for others than to do good for oneself.”

And that’s exactly what he had spent a lifetime doing.

My dad was passionate about conservation, education and germination. And when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he exemplified determination.

As was typical for my dad, his determination extended beyond himself. On our blog he wrote “…if you’ve got cancer: DON’T FREAKING GIVE UP.”

My dad never gave up. He fought courageously. But cancer did what cancer has done for thousands of years, and my dad passed away after just 11 months of fighting.

And although cancer stole my dad, it also toughened me for the fight ahead. Now, here we are, continuing to fight so that, one day, we will defeat cancer for good.

And not only are we here fighting against this cruel disease. We are also here fighting for something much more precious.

We fight so that children may grow up to “discover their passions and explore them fiercely”. We fight so that fathers may walk their daughters’ down the aisle. We fight so that mothers might become grandmothers. We fight for more time and so that we might live to see all of life’s treasures.

While my dad won’t be there to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, or to bounce his grandbabies on his knee and teach them about bugs and plants and the many uses for coconut oil…and though the sadness we feel in this moment is particularly heavy — it’s important for me to express the other feelings I hold in my heart – feelings of joy, gratitude…and hope.

I feel joy because happiness is what my dad wanted for us. He wanted us to find beauty and wonderment in the world. He wanted us to “treasure the importance of each day and to be understanding of the fleetingness of life.

I feel grateful because I was lucky enough to have a father who taught me about passion and laughter and about unconditional love. As Winnie the Pooh said:

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”

And tonight, as I look out at each of your faces and each of the flickering flames around us… I AM HOPEFUL. I am hopeful because each of these flames burn bright because of you. Because you are the light.

Now, before I leave you, I want to share with you one more piece of advice from Winnie the Pooh:

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you.”


xoxo,

Hannah

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The Struggle

I’ve had two great struggles in my life; The first was growing up feeling “un-beautiful”. From elementary school through college I struggled with my weight — I’d even go as far as to say I was the fat girl. I also had acne early on and it’s something I battle to this day. I don’t have to tell you that girls are mean —– and I admit, until recently, I was no exception. Girls are especially cruel to one another, which can make high school a brutal time for anyone,  but I know it’s particularly brutal for a girl who’s ashamed of her body. I’ve worked hard to shed 60+ pounds since college and have outgrown the worst of my teenage skin troubles, but weight and self-esteem issues will always be part of my journey.

When I lost the weight I felt like I had won my battle, overcome my odds, passed my test. At 22, I felt like my struggle was finally over. But then it happened…my second great struggle came along and made me dream of days when weight was utmost concern. My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and the struggle became more real and more terrifying than I ever knew possible.

Since my dad passed, the struggle hasn’t even begun to fade, but from here I can see the good in the struggle. From here, I can see the struggle has given me a sense of purpose. Watching my dad’s vibrant life slip away gave me an appreciation for the short time we are given.

The struggle has enlightened me and encouraged me to pursue what is new, exciting and even downright terrifying. This year has already been incredible! I was a keynote speaker at San Diego Women’s Week, ran my very first half marathon and had the privilege of mentoring a teen girl. This year I’ll also climb Mt. Whitney, and rappel a skyscraper to raise money for cancer research. All of this is far beyond my comfort zone, but I’ve found that outside of my comfort zone is where the struggle is —  and that’s where I flourish.

While I’m not doing this for my dad, I am doing this because of him. My dad taught me to embrace the struggle — and losing him is has been the greatest struggle I’ve ever known.

Above all, I’m doing this for girls of all ages who have struggled and who are struggling. I’m doing this for those that have struggled financially, physically, emotionally or spiritually. I’m doing this for who have lost someone they love; For those who struggle to pay the bills or lose the weight. I’m doing this for those who have felt rejection and loneliness. I’m doing this for all of us who just want to feel happy and beautiful in our own skin. I’m living outside my comfort zone to help all girls realize that beauty comes from the struggle.

The struggle strengthens us for the journey. The struggle makes us powerful, brave and bold. The struggle is what gives us purpose.

xoxo

Hannah Jane

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”

-Rumi

Hannah Jane Nancarrow

Rejoice!

“If I could tell the world just one thing it would be —  we’re all okay,

And not to worry, ’cause worry is wasteful and useless in times like these.

I won’t be made useless.

I won’t be idle with despair.

I will gather myself around my faith,

For light does the darkness most fear.”

You know those days that you awaken to a sharp pain, an awful wrenching in your stomach, a sudden realization that, today, something is barring you from your happiness?  Sometimes the discomfort is physical. Other times it’s emotional or spiritual. Sometimes it’s worry, sometimes grief or loss or injury. It’s those days that make you want to stay in bed, to hide away from the existing pain and protect yourself from the plethora of other things that threaten to steal your joy — and it’s those days that it’s more important than ever to rise and rejoice.

In the past 10 months, I’ve had A LOT of those days. I’ve had a lot of moments where continuing on seems too painful and too difficult to even fathom. It starts each morning as my alarm goes off and I have about 6-8 seconds before I remember. I remember how cold it is outside. I remember that I’ve been out of work for months. I remember that my puppy chewed the inside of my car. I remember that I have a huge zit on my face. I remember that my pants are too tight. I remember that my boyfriend is now my ex. I remember that I still haven’t done my laundry. I remember that I had “one too many” the night before. I remember that I have a ton of sh*t to do. And I remember that my dad has terminal cancer.

Well…there goes my day. It’s funny how the weight of the world can do that…make you forget the things that bring you joy by reminding you of the things that make life tough. But throughout all this, it has become increasingly clear that it’s joy that is the antidote for all of that tough stuff, and life can be so made so much more wonderful by simply reframing your mindset and rejoicing in all of the things that make life…life.

So, here it goes…

I rejoice in sweatshirts and heaters and relatively warm San Diego winters! I rejoice in all my extra free time that has allowed me so many special days with my dad! I rejoice in owning a car…and a puppy…and a new menagerie of chew toys! I rejoice in knowing that most acne isn’t life-threatening! I rejoice in stretchy pants (and I’m literally rejoicing while wearing them at this very moment)! I rejoice in having experienced romance and love! I rejoice in laundromats! I rejoice in tequila…and Advil! I rejoice in being alive to do all that sh*t I have to do! And most of all, I rejoice in the love and warmth and knowledge (and awesome genes) bestowed upon me by my incredible dad.

Suddenly, I’m able to rise up out of my bed (and I totally rejoice in having a bed), excited for a day chock-full of both the good and the bad — throughout all of which I can find reasons to rejoice.

XOXO

Hannah

“Rejoice! Rejoice!

We have no choice but to carry on.”

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Ode to Discomfort

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m in love with being comfortable — almost to a fault. Yoga pants, any kind of carb, a year-round space heater, a big comfy couch and did I mention yoga pants? I guess I could be compared to a Hobbit in the Shire. Why leave my comfort zone when it’s just so….comfy? (And the alternative is just so…not).

Well, (despite all my best efforts ) I’ve been uncomfortable a lot lately; training for the California 10/20 Run and learning the ins-and-outs of cancer care, while trying still to navigate my own life’s plan. But while spending all this time away from my comfort zone, I’m starting to understand what discomfort really means.

I’ve learned that discomfort is both voluntary and involuntary. It’s mental, emotional and physical. Discomfort is sickness and health. Discomfort is fear, sadness and uncertainty. It’s shock, surprise and anticipation. Discomfort is failure and success.

I’ve actually begun to sort of enjoy all this discomfort (not in like a masochistic, chains and whips sort of way). It’s just, I now understand that discomfort is fleeting — but it’s effects are lasting. Discomfort builds strength and power. Discomfort is a teacher, a guide. Discomfort breeds warriors, survivors and heroes. Discomfort is a challenge and it’s a life lesson. Discomfort is a mentor, a coach and a trainer preparing me for the road ahead — because greatness is not achieved by being comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always love being comfy.  In fact, discomfort has actually deepened my love affair with comfort. By feeling uncomfortable, I’m expanding my comfort zone (adding acreage to my Shire, so to speak) and giving myself the gift of contentment under any circumstance.

So, while I’m counting out cancer meds or running my way up a big ol’ hill, I know I’m in training. I know my discomfort is coaching me along as I build the strength and endurance to take on all the tough stuff that lies ahead.

So, here’s to you, discomfort. I owe all my comfort to you.

(And a special shout out to yoga pants — I couldn’t do it without you.)

xoxo

hjn

Discomfort is very much part of my master plan.

— Jonathan Lethem

Billy Joel

My dad and I have always shared similar opinions on just about everything. We love the same Billy Joel songs. We like to eat at the same restaurants. We‘re intrigued by the same journalists and inspired by the same writers. We share a love of music and a lack of rhythm. And we laugh at the same bizarre jokes. We’ve even come to an agreement that there are two types of people in the world: people who like Family Guy (him) and people who like South Park (me). So even when we disagree, we somehow manage to still agree.

Lately, the chemo and other cancer meds have changed him. And I can only assume the sadness and stress have changed me too. Our similarities seem to dwindle and things we agree on are fewer and farther between. Recently, it seems that stubbornness is all we share. We disagree on big stuff, like what to write and how to write it. And we disagree on the littlest things, like the best route to take to the store.

Then, last Wednesday we came to an easy agreement to have lunch at our favorite Italian restaurant. Over a couple plates of spaghetti, I made a South Park reference (which you would’ve thought brilliant and hilarious if I could remember it). Without skipping a beat or looking up from his noodles, my dad said “Man, Family Guy is just so much better than South Park.” And on the drive home, by way of some divine signal, Billy Joel started playing on the radio, and we both sang along at the top of our lungs…

You may be right

I may be crazy

Oh, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for

It’s too late to fight

It’s too late to change me

You may be wrong for all I know

But you may be right

So, there amidst all the disparity, I learned that in a world of change, transformation and adjustment, some of the best things stay the same. I learned that no cancer, chemo or any other crap could ever break the fundamental bonds my dad and I share (as silly as they may seem).

There on that beautiful, imperfect Wednesday, a father and daughter found the lunatic they’d each been looking for – in one another.

xoxo

hjn

HannahImage

Nail Polish

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Painting and repainting. That’s what I’ve been doing. Painting my nails, wiping them clean and painting them again. One by one. Coat by glossy coat. Blue, pink, orange, gold and crimson red lacquer. There are plenty of days when I do more than just painting and repainting…but not today. Today it’s just me, some nail polish and a bottle of acetone. Painting and repainting.

There’s something therapeutic about nail polish. Painting takes concentration, patience, a steady hand and a steady mind — stuff I’ve struggled with recently. But it’s said that practice makes perfect, so I just keep painting and repainting.

It doesn’t matter the color or brand of polish. It doesn’t matter if it’s chipped, dented or entirely smudged. Each nail will inevitably be wiped clean again. All that matters is painting. I just keep hoping I’ll find that lucky hue. I just keep hoping that maybe a fresh coat will cure my writer’s block — or better yet, cure my dad’s cancer. So I just keep painting and repainting.

xoxo

Hannah Jane

No Mud, No Lotus

I got an overdraft notice from the bank this morning, accompanying a $35 fee and bounced rent check. I washed all my black clothes—in bleach. I dropped my iPhone and stared helplessly as it shattered on the ground. My cat pooped in the kitchen sink. I repeat: he pooped in the kitchen sink. I’m breaking out in a way I can only imagine will leave me looking like “Craterface” from Grease. I spent $50 on a tanning membership the day before my brother found skin cancer on his toe. I crashed my car on the way to the hospital—where my dad was having emergency brain surgery related to his terminal cancer diagnosis. And I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

I’ve heard that life is a journey, to enjoy the ride. I’ve been reminded to count my blessings, to be thankful for what I have and to live each day as my last. But in reality—only when sh*t hits the fan are things truly forced into perspective. And I’m learning that it’s not such a bad thing.

I won’t always be po’ (not poor…po’). And even if I am, at least I’ll be po’ while doing what I love. It’s summer in sunny San Diego and time to trade my black clothes for some color anyway. My iPhone still functions. In the battle between bleach and cat poop — bleach wins every time. Acne treatments have made leaps and bounds in recent years. Graham’s melanoma was successfully removed and he’s now a sunscreen poster boy/skin cancer awareness activist. My mom loaned me her much nicer car until I get the Prius back from the body shop. And my dad—-he’s a warrior. He’s a gardener, journalist, activist and road trippin’ son of a gun . He’s a lotus.

There’s a Buddhist saying: No mud, no lotus. Lotus flowers grow in muddy, swampy water. Still, they bloom above their murky conditions unscathed and incredibly beautiful.

We are all lotus flowers.

xoxo

Hannah

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