August 2016 is when a challenging year started.

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” This phrase often crossed my mind and I wanted to respond, “Or it leaves us crippled or weaker than before.” Now, a year later, I can feel the strength beginning to set in. Maybe it’s like exercise where the muscles get torn before they can become stronger. After exercise, you feel sore and maybe there’s even pain. It’s only after a period of rest and healing that you can feel the positive benefits. Ya, maybe it’s like that.

First, we nearly lost our cat after he was hit by a car. If you are an animal lover, you get it. They are family. I adopted this guy at the deepest time of my depression and adrenal fatigue several years ago. I have been off all medication including antidepressants and he was my natural antidepressant. My buddy.

We didn’t know if he was going to make it and had to make the decision to have his rear left leg amputated. It all sounds a bit silly now, but nursing him back to health by myself for two weeks was tough. Thank goodness we had the Olympics to keep us inspired. Our motto became #WeAreFightersWeAreSurvivors. And we did both

Then, just two weeks after that, on the first day of school, my best girlfriend of over a decade was diagnosed with Leukemia. I kicked into fighter/survivor mode again and knew she was going to beat this. This is one strong, smart, Amazonian woman who has already overcome so much in her life. That and fighting Leukemia has such a high success rate. She added to the motto making it #WeAreFightersWeAreSurvivorsWeAreTHRIVERS. Her situation was unique in that she had to spend the majority of her eight-month fight staying in a hospital. No chemo for a few hours and then home to recover. She may have had a few weeks of home stay sprinkled throughout those eight months. We did a successful GoFundMe account and a wonderful bone marrow drive. Just as the doctor predicted, she had a marrow match at about the three-month mark. Not just one match, but several. The transplant was a success and we were just counting down the days until she could come home.

About three months into this fight, I noticed my daughter NOT thriving. She’s a bright kid, has a sweet heart, and wants so much to please others. School is a struggle because she has inattentive ADHD (she’s not hyper, just can’t stay focused) and her open structured school situation left her with too many choices and not enough supervision. She almost seemed to be shrinking under the pressure of getting her work done as she brought home whatever she didn’t finish at school and sat at the kitchen table all afternoon and evening until things were finished. She and I independently concluded that we should home school. So, by Thanksgiving, I now had a new full time job as a teacher. Jumping in feet first, we started 5th grade all over.

My girlfriend’s bone marrow transplant was on January 20th. So as the media watched Trump’s first 100 days of his presidency, we counted down the same 100 days because THEN she could come home.

But she never came home. In early April, she got pneumonia. And the cancer came back. All in about a twenty-four hour period. And she was gone. We went from texting that morning to that night, me driving two and a half hours to Stanford to watch her breathe her last breath.

Picking up the pieces after that was such a struggle. Homeschooling stopped for a few weeks. We did our best to celebrate Easter. It is about life after death after all. And we just tried to learn how to adjust to our “new normal.”

It’s been less than four months since my heart muscles were torn apart. I still feel sore and there is still pain so I know there is rest and healing to be done, but I’m also beginning to feel hope again. There will be scars and I’m not the same person I was a year ago. I’m no longer podcasting, speaking for free, or blogging. But, I’m finding new joy being in the moment of my everyday life that I took for granted. I love the one-on-one time I have with my daughter as we learn in our new way of schooling. She is confident and her happy self again.

I wanted to write this to get this past year behind me and start a new one. It won’t be easy as we celebrate all the “firsts” without my amazing friend. Our first Halloween in seven years without trick-or-treating together, our first of her birthdays without her, and on it goes, but she’s with me everyday. In my heart. In my thoughts. Guiding me to the most important things this life is meant to be.

I know this next year will have its hard times too, but I guess in some ways, I AM stronger for it. I will fight. I will survive. And I WILL THRIVE.