Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer: Julie Haag

Before I started training for the Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer ride this past May, I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a teenager. I certainly had never clicked in to bike pedals on a road bike. In fact, walking was the only form of exercise I practiced regularly. Understandably, this means I have some fears of the grueling pace of training and the cross-country bike ride itself, but these don’t compare to my excitement. Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to honor so many loved ones impacted by cancer was a “no-brainer”, and why I volunteered to ride this year with my colleagues and for patients.

Like so many other people out there, cancer has had a profound impact on my life. In 2004, my world came to a halt when my mom was diagnosed with leukemia. She was my best friend, role model and the person who I went to on my best and worst days. The strength in her fight and dedication to her faith empowered my whole family, and proved just how important our family bond is in good times and bad. Initially, my mom was declared in remission of her cancer, but unfortunately, her cancer came back in full force.

I remember her last day like it was just yesterday. One of the hospice nurses approached me to say that “the time is now” and that my mom was waiting for me. My mom wanted to know that I would be okay without her. She wanted permission to move on from this world. My heart was telling me that I wasn’t going to be okay. How could I say goodbye when I wasn’t ready? I wanted her to be at my wedding. I wanted her to become grandma “GiGi” to my children. I wanted her to watch me grow old. Who was going to help me on my next bad day? Who was going to praise me when I have my next great achievement at work? Who was going to make my birthday the most special day in the world? Still, I knew that I needed to give my mom the peace she deserved, and so I let her go. The hole in my heart will never heal from her loss, and there is never a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.

Two years after her passing, I found my partner and new best friend who I will adventure life with. Not too long after we were married, we were blessed with a precious little girl who we named her after my mother, Virginia: “GiGi.” My daughter has been the best healing to my grief because we share a bond like the one I shared with my mom. I know my mom is with me through my daughter. I feel my mom when my daughter gives me the biggest hug and tells me how much she loves me. When my daughter smiles, I know that my mom is smiling too.

When my daughter was almost three years old, my own personal journey with cancer began. I was diagnosed with melanoma. I had been going for routine body exams for years since skin cancer runs in my family, but had pushed back my appointment that year. My daughter was the one who actually pointed to the mole on my leg and asked “What’s that, Mommy?” It took me by complete shock. The only people I knew who had had melanoma, had passed away from it. I didn’t want it to be my time! My daughter needed me to raise her and help her grow through life. I remember looking in the mirror and telling the cancer that “you will not take me away, like you took away my mom.”

After surgery to remove my melanoma, I started a new lifestyle. Each day I coat myself in sunscreen and limit my time in the sun. I embrace every day given to me and try focusing on the present.

I know my mom is with me through my daughter. I feel my mom when my daughter gives me the biggest hug and tells me how much she loves me. When my daughter smiles, I know that my mom is smiling too.

My reason for riding in this year’s Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer Ride is to push myself outside of my comfort zone, to build cancer awareness and to raise much needed funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research and the important research they support to ultimately benefit cancer patients and survivors. On the ride, if my body tells me to stop, I will tell myself that this is NOTHING compared to someone going through treatment or somebody fighting for one more day to spend with their family.