When Given the Choice Between Being Right or Being Kind, Choose Kind

As the New Year rapidly approaches many of us turn our gaze inward for our annual forced introspection and goal setting. For me though, I like to check in with myself periodically to hold myself accountable to the things I love in an effort to live my best life; but like many of us, I too cannot help but feel that same pull as 12:00am on December 31st inches ever closer.

This year for me has been filled with unforeseen trials, tragedies, and triumphs. From competing in my first ever powerlifting meet, to taking a hiatus from teaching yoga after 5 incredible years, to sharing a blissful 2nd wedding anniversary with my love, to my sister’s engagement (it only took long enough!), to sadly my grandmother suffering multiple strokes and landing in a nursing home, to coaching at Orangetheory Fitness [then quitting], to gaining 22 pounds, and so, so, so much more.

But also amidst 2017, I was voted onto various committees at my school where I started assuming more responsibilities in pseudo-leadership roles. This year, I have thrived in my classroom as a middle school teacher, and experienced a rejuvenation for my craft I haven’t felt in YEARS. It seemed that my life, while filled with challenges was [finally] falling, no—it was settling into place.

My second life and career in the fitness world teaching cycling, yoga, and other fitness formats for One Down Dog and Equinox was coming full circle. I was being sent to trainings, teaching more formats, and getting recognition in being selected to participate in high-profile events through Equinox like Cycle for Survival and Cycle for Heroes. It seemed that my life was hurling right ahead in all the positive directions I had intended until one fateful April morning when my husband Gregory was diagnosed with Limited Systemic Sclerosis, more commonly known as Scleroderma.

As I have previously written, those early days are hard to recall. They are kind of a blacked out blur. And to be completely honest, much of what I take away is the fear in my husband’s eyes and the ceaseless crying. Just flirting with 2 years of marriage…my beloved husband was delivered earth-shattering news that would forever alter both our lives…

Would Greg die?

What would happen to his body?

How would I assume the role care-taker?

The questions didn’t stop and they haven’t stopped—that’s one of my husband Greg’s greatest and most irksome qualities: His ability to ask incessant, albeit mostly great questions.

We mobilized immediately and jumped head first into the Scleroderma community meeting new people, touched by their stories and strength, making life-long friends, attending galas, donating money, but above all—giving back. Together, side-by-side, Greg and I held a fundraiser at One Down Dog where we got our yoga on and auctioned off donated goods from community partners in raffles and a silent auction for the Scleroderma Foundation of Southern California. Jessica Rosen, One Down Dog’s owner graciously donated the space, matched donations, and helped us do something great for others for no reason other than it was the right thing to do–help those in need.

Inspired by the success of our first fundraiser, Greg and I set our sights on a second fundraiser, but as fate would have it; Greg was promoted to Group Fitness Manager at an Equinox club out of the initial proposed location—putting the fundraiser on hold for the moment. Again, so much darn good this year—that’s for sure.

Look at that smile! Michael, a Scleroderma Warrior!

The holiday season rounded the corner and Greg stumbled upon someone’s Instagram page that piqued his interest. It was of a mother sharing photos and the story of her 9-year-old son Michael fighting Scleroderma (click HERE to visit Tiffany’s Instagram). Immediately, Greg and Tiffany started talking via social media. We came to learn much about Michael’s struggles and bravery. At just 9-years-old, Michael had been battling Scleroderma since he was 3-years-old! Additionally, Micheal’s condition was further complicated by his Parry-Romberg Syndrome, (also known as progressive hemifacial atrophy) which is a rare disease characterized by progressive shrinkage and degeneration of the tissues beneath the skin, usually on only one side of the face (hemifacial atrophy) but occasionally extending to other parts of the body (Wikipedia.com). Needless to say, Michael’s story touched our hearts deeply.

Both Greg and I repeatedly poured over Tiffany’s Instagram…our hearts aching for poor Michael. At times, I even felt ashamed of myself for having the audacity to pity myself by calling myself fat, or ruminating on the 22 pounds I put on—I mean, c’mon. There are people who have REAL struggles and my biggest issue in my life is at times I think I am fat?! What in the actual hell is wrong with me?!

Michael’s mother posted to her Instagram about his upcoming surgery—a fat transplant procedure that would help restore some symmetry to Michael’s face. She discussed an online giveaway she had entered with the hopes of winning a Nintendo Switch to give Michael for Christmas. Tiffany went on to discuss in her post that her husband was trying to work overtime to afford the pricey console. It was then when Greg turned to me and said, “I want to buy Michael the Nintendo Switch.”

The Brave Michael pre-surgery

There was no hesitation, and no discussion needed. Immediately, I responded, “Great. So buy it.”

Greg reminded me that we’d be spending money on a complete stranger and that spending this kind of money would have its repercussions; but we both didn’t care. This was the right thing to do, just like the many others that have done the right thing/s for us. Finally, it was our turn to pay it forward.

To me, money is just that—money. If something I have can alleviate the pain and suffering of someone else, then so be it. Seeing Michael open his Nintendo Switch on Christmas…knowing that Greg and I were able to do something truly altruistic this holiday season was all the thanks we both needed. We knew buying Michael that Nintendo Switch was money well spent.

In looking back, to say I lived a lifetime this year would be an understatement. Filled with lots of good, some bad, and few very ugly parts; I need to say that Greg’s diagnosis has come as a blessing in disguise. Greg has been entrusted to be the face of this little-talked about and very rare autoimmune disease. Greg’s diagnosis inspired him to head back to school for a Master’s in Public Health so that he can help others afflicted with autoimmune conditions. We have collectively fundraised thousands of dollars to help in Scleroderma research and patient advocacy. And as of yesterday, Greg officially registered for the LA Marathon and will be running to raise awareness and funds for Scleroderma!

Yes, there isn’t a day that doesn’t pass that I do not look at my husband and worry about his health. There are times where my eyes well with tears in a collective sadness, lamenting for my husband’s lack of mobility, range of motion, and incredible discomfort in his body. Nothing about Greg’s daily life, or mine for that matter is, nor will remain easy—and that’s ok! Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. For it is only through trials and tribulations does one truly cultivate perseverance, wherewithal, and character.

So, while we may not have had a choice in what 2017 dealt us when Scleroderma chose us; in 2018 it will not define us. There is no time to be sad, worry, and feel bad for ourselves as that won’t change anything. The only way I see my year and moving grandly into 2018 is by taking action. We won’t stop, and can’t stop.

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year, here’s you my friends and family as we rise up together to live our lives as our best selves.