Thank you OralID and the Oral Cancer Foundation for sharing my mom’s story. It’s an honor to be affiliated with both of these organizations and I cannot thank you enough for all that you do for patients, survivors and families affected by oral cancer. I hope that my mom’s story helps others learn how critical early detection and screenings are in saving lives and preserving the quality of those lives.
Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, the global day dedicated to giving back. I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to donate, support and volunteer for the Oral Cancer Foundation. When my mom was battling oral cancer the founders and members of the foundation provided support and comfort for my mom. I think one of the reasons my mom was able to fight the disease for over nine years was due to the camaraderie she found through the OCF. While oral cancer stole my mom’s voice and ultimately her life, the OCF has allowed her fight and voice to live on with their constant efforts towards eradicating this horrible disease. I cannot thank the members of the OCF, founder Brian Hill and the amazing volunteers and workers enough for all that they do. Thank you to all my sweet friends who support Carol’s Fight and help spread awareness!
“Be it through helping people behind me in the disease process with their questions on OCF’s online support group, working with researchers (both through direct funding and through my position on a National Cancer Institute immuotherapeutics oversight committee) that are making progress in our understanding of not only the disease but important new ways to interrupt a cancer cell’s ability to evade our own immune system, to working on efforts to reach kids before they adopt tobacco as a lifestyle choice through our rodeo outreach program, to helping convince the CDC to allow on label vaccination of young boys against HPV, a virus that will cause over 600,000 new cancers in the world this year including oral/oropharyngeal cancers, to working with politicians that finally passed a landmark bill to allow the FDA more control over tobacco, I give my time and donations to support OCF.”
– Brian Hill
Oral Cancer Foundation Founder
IV Oral Cancer Survivor
I recently had the opportunity to speak to the women’s soccer team at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition to telling the story behind Rising Strength the focus of my talk was the power that a team has and the long-lasting impact teammates have on your life that go well beyond the field. It is a friendship with one of my John Carroll School soccer teammates, Ashley Myers, that led to the opportunity to speak with the women’s soccer team at Eckerd College. Ashley was an All-American soccer player in high school and played at Penn State. Today, Ashley coaches youth players in Tampa, Florida at her soccer academy Warrior Soccer Training. Thank you Ash for being so committed to the development of youth soccer players on and off the field and being a great friend.
It was a huge honor to speak to the women’s soccer team at Eckerd College and meet head coach Danielle Fotopolous. In 1998, I watched Danielle score the game winning goal against the UNC Tarheels to pull off a big upset and win a National Championship. Danielle was a member of the US national team that won the 1999 World Cup and she had the record for most goals and points in the NCAA while playing at the University of Florida. Danielle is an incredible athlete and is certainly a legend in women’s soccer, but to me, one of the most impressive traits about her is her genuine love and concern for her players. Thank you Danielle, the coaching staff and players for being so welcoming and making it a great experience!
Two weeks ago I had the chance to spend time with another one of my John Carroll teammates Jamie Weymont. Jamie, Ashley and I were captains on the soccer team our senior year that went undefeated and won a state championship. That season was one of favorite experiences as an athlete. We all moved away after high school and went on to play division 1 soccer out-of-state. Recently, the three of us reconnected and the camaraderie and understanding of each other’s mindsets and goals was palpable. It reminded me of how we were on the field together, it just clicked. Like Ashley, Jamie is giving back and making a difference in people’s lives through teaching and coaching. Jamie still coaches soccer but spends most of her time teaching yoga and meditation. I am so grateful to have both these awesome women in my life and I’m excited for some of the upcoming collaborations I will be working with them on.
Jamie will be teaching a workshop on gratitude and meditation on November 14th. I can’t wait to take part in her class and know it will be an incredible experience. For more information please click the link. Gratitude and Flow
Two years ago today, I woke up and went for a run in Johnson City, TN and my life changed forever. I was completely unaware on my run that I was being targeted and followed by a paroled rapist. Later that night, I was attacked in my home by a serial rapist who broke in through a bathroom window and grabbed me while I laid on the couch reading a book.
I am blessed to be here today and that I wasn’t raped that night. I am even more fortunate that through the love and friendship of the people in my life we have been able to turn that horrible night into something that helps others. Thank you to everyone who has supported Rising Strength and encouraged me along the way.
One week after the attack, I ran a 1/2 marathon in Asheville, NC. While I was running the race I was overcome with feelings of relief and gratitude. I had the same feelings of gratitude and triumph last year when I put together a team to take on the 2014 Blue Ridge Relay to raise awareness for the violence that occurs against women and promote self-defense. We had such a great experience that we decided to do it again!
Last week we took on 208 miles of constant running and some seriously daunting hills to raise awareness for message of Rising Strength. Thank you so much Beth, Teigen, Erik, Ashley, Jamie, Brett, Holly, Melissa and Rett for being on the Rising Strength Blue Ridge Relay team and making it such an incredible experience! Thank you to our sponsors Interstate Container, Evco, Team Kattouf, OralID, Appalachian Federal Community Credit Union, Tri-Cities Nisan and Broyles Florist .
In the days leading up to the relay, I had the opportunity to speak to the female athletes at Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN and to a high school class at Happy Valley High School in Elizabethton, TN. I was blown away with how attentive the students were at both schools and the great questions that they had for me. There is so much negativity constantly portrayed in our media about the general apathy and indifference of our generation. It was refreshing to be around young students who prove those negative sentiments false. Thank you to the student athletes at Tusculum College and Happy Valley High School for your attention, kindness and thought provoking questions it was a joy to spend time with you and share my story.
You have a remarkable gift that isn’t learned or taught. You have the innate power of instinct and intuition. You don’t need to think very hard. You don’t panic or obsess. You act.
After the attack, people would often ask me “how did you get away”. I would answer that I was blessed and very lucky that I was an athlete and that I reacted the way I did. While this answer generally would suffice, internally I struggled with the question and wanted to know more. I became very interested in the traits that define survivors and have read many books on the topic. At the forefront of almost every book that I read is trusting your intuition and instincts.
I didn’t have a bad feeling the night of the attack but several days before the attack my dad was visiting and was locked out of the my house. My dad called me to say that he climbed in my bathroom window. He kept asserting that if he could get in anyone could get in that way. My dad wanted me to call my landlord and ask him to fix the lock on the window. I assured my dad that I would and briefly thought about someone breaking into my house through the window but immediately dismissed this thought. After the attack my dad blamed himself, he felt that the attacker was probably watching my house and saw my dad climb in the window. There is no way to be sure if the attacker saw my dad get into my house that day, but I believe that the message from my dad was a sign of what was coming. I chose to ignore it. I didn’t trust my thought of someone coming into my house. I rationalized. I thought to myself, I sleep with that window open all the time. Nothing will happen.
I was blessed to have been able to get away from my attacker unharmed. I’ll never forget the relief that I felt when investigators told me and my dad that the man who is believed to have attacked me was caught. Knowing that the man who had broken into my home by removing the screen windows and putting them in my neighbor’s yard and who then used my patio furniture as a step ladder to get in through my bathroom window and then proceeded to crawl into my living room to attack me from behind, would never have the opportunity to prey on women again was incredible. That relief was soon met by the devastating news that my attacker is a HIV positive paroled rapist who went on to rape two women in the days after my attack.
My heart was broken for the women who were not as fortunate as me to get away. I thought about what could have happened if my attacker had raped me that night and I survived. The investigators told my dad the violence and confidence of my attacker indicated that I was lucky to make it out of my apartment alive. But what would have happened to me if I had survived but would have been exposed to HIV? What would have happened if the attacker would have had a gun or knife? These questions still stay with me daily and were a huge reason that I started Rising Strength. I tell my story as a way to raise awareness for violence that occurs against women and encourage women to put their health and safety as a top priority. I also tell my story to encourage women to trust your instincts. I recently received the message below from a young woman I went to college with.
“I just wanted to let you know what an inspiration you are! I read your story about the attack when you first started rising strength and it was very inspirational and compelling. I never thought I’d find myself in a similar position. Recently a man came to our home and knocked on our door and because I didn’t know him I didn’t answer. He left but a little while later I noticed he has parked a little ways off and was walking back towards our house. I was already nervous but when I realized he was coming back to our house I felt paralyzed with fear and I remembered your story and I knew I needed to get out of the house. Thankfully I was able to leave before he broke in the back door. I was able to ID him for the police and he was caught. Since then I’ve been terrified to be home alone… Even during the day (that’s when the break in happened). When I feel scared and immobilized by fear I remember you and how you’ve overcome. I know my experience was nothing like yours but your strength and resilience are an inspiration to me.”
I hate that my friend had this experience, but I am so proud of the way she handled this situation and the way she trusted her intuition. I’m glad that my story has had an impact and helped my friend find the strength to react but her intuition, faith and action was what I believe helped her get out of a bad situation. She did everything right. She did not answer the door when it was someone she didn’t know. She checked back to see where he was. She was able to get through the fear and react to get out of the home.
If you have an instinct…trust it and act.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
― Lao Tzu
The word courage is derived from the Latin word for heart. This makes a lot of sense because to me you can’t have courage without a tremendous amount of heart. My mom exemplified heart and courage everyday during her nine-year battle with oral cancer. Even when my mom was suffering from unimaginable pain she still took the time to constantly think of others before herself. My mom loved to send uplifting cards and support causes. I’ve tried my best to carry on her thoughtfulness and love of people, along her passionate fight against oral cancer through Carol’s Fight. Seeing my mom’s courage and fight for life is one of the main reasons I believe that I was able to fight my attacker off the night of the attack and start Rising Strength.
Last month, I was missing my mom so much and just wanted to talk to her. While thinking about her love of people, her sense of humor and her knack for always knowing how to make me feel better, I looked up her birthday on World Vision. That’s where I found Courage, a five-year old from Ghana who shares my mom’s birthday and a name that could not have been more perfect. World Vision is an incredible organization that allows you to have an impact on a child’s life in areas of the world where children desperately need our help. I am so honored to be Courage’s World Vision sponsor and carry on my mom’s love of supporting others. To me, the best way to direct your pain from losing someone is to honor the person that they were. Somehow, when you do this the pain eases and the presence of your loved one is palpable.
We are less than two months away from the Blue Ridge Relay! I can’t wait to join my Blue Ridge Relay teammates and take on 208 miles to raise awareness for women’s health and safety! It takes a lot of heart and courage to run those mountain goat hard legs in the dark and I can’t thank everyone on the team enough! HUGE thank you to our sponsors Evco, Interstate Resources, Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union and OralId! If your interested in supporting the team please contact me.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Urban reTREAT for Women in Johnson City, TN. The retreat was held at the Carnegie Hotel and hosted by Pam Morgan. We had an awesome day filled with yoga, great speakers and wonderful food! Thank you Pam, Jennifer Boggs, Shelly Bullock, Glynda Ramsey, Chef Heather, Susan Street and all of the ladies who attended and made the day so awesome!
We are are gearing up and getting ready to take on another Blue Ridge Relay. Thank you Ron Scott of Appalachian Community Federal Community Credit Union, Patt Evans of Evco and Interstate Container for sponsoring this year’s team! Last year was such an incredible experience and I can’t thank my team and all of last year’s sponsors enough! My former soccer teammate, long-time friend and current Blue Ridge Relay teammate, Beth Koloup wrote the following:
Last year I ran in the BRR, which was my first mountain relay. I am not a runner by any means, but I came away having one of the most fun, challenging, and adventurous experiences of my life. I met an amazing group of ladies (and one Erik) that were incredibly supportive and provided so much encouragement to each and every member of the team. I’ve stayed in contact with many of them and wouldn’t pass up another opportunity to relive it all again.
My favorite moment of last year’s relay was watching Rachel finish her “Mountain Goat Hard” leg, which was, in my non-professional opinion, the longest, most uphill, steep and dreaded run I’ve ever seen. True to form, Rachel finished like a champ, but it was the next moment, seeing Rachel embrace her Dad, knowing all that they’ve been through, that brought me to tears. It was one of those moments that I’ll always remember and be inspired by, especially when times get tough and I need to be lifted up.
Personally, my favorite leg of the relay was my second, which began around 1am and required the use of awesome headlamps and totally stylish reflective gear. Once I got over the creepiness of my True Detective-like surroundings, it was so peaceful and cool to be in almost absolute silence (minus the occasional van passing by, on to the next leg–except for ours, which was probably halfway to Florida at that point), to only see as far as your headlamp would light in front of you (and the random one or two reflectors catching some light from runners miles up the mountain ahead of me), and to have to trust my memory (and the drawings on my arm) to make the correct next turn.
Of course, if he was up for the challenge, I wanted my boyfriend Teigen to share in the experience with me this year and he obliged… We’ll see if he can handle it! (at this point, I am not so sure…)
Can’t wait to take on 208 miles with another great group again!
It’s hard to believe that it has been over a month since the Boston Marathon! I had such an incredible experience at Boston and enjoyed every moment running for the causes that are so important to me. I can’t thank my sweet college teammates and friends enough for surprising me with the video below! I was blown away by all of the support I received from my friends and family and couldn’t stop smiling the entire marathon! Thank you Jamie O’Day from the Oral Cancer Foundation for the awesome care package! It is an honor to support the OCF and I feel so lucky that I can help carry on my mom’s memory through an incredible organization like the The Oral Cancer Foundation. Thank you Go-Shake, Team Kattouf, and OralID for everything!
Less than a week after the Boston Marathon I had the opportunity to be a speaker at The Justice in Motion 5k in Jonesborough, TN. The Justice in Motion 5k raises awareness for the rights of victims and all proceeds go to local domestic violence shelters. It was an honor to be a speaker at the race and to be back in an area that I love so much! Thank you, Todd Hull and all of the organizers of the race for your support of Rising Strength. Thank you We Run Events and all of the runners that came out to participate. As a victim of violence it makes such a difference knowing that there are communities coming together to not only support victims but advocate for change.
As we get ready to start preparing for talks this fall and another Blue Ridge Relay, I can’t thank my friends enough for their support of Rising Strength and Carol’s Fight! I am so lucky to have such amazing people in my life who constantly blow me away with their friendship and love!
April is an important month for anyone who has been touched by oral cancer. My mom, Carol Layer, lost a nine-year battle with oral cancer in August of 2011. Throughout my mom’s fight against oral cancer, her involvement in the Oral Cancer Foundation helped her immensely by allowing her to form friendships with people who were enduring the same hardships she was. After my mom passed away, many members of the oral cancer foundation reached out to me to offer their support and let me know what an important role my mom played in helping them get through their own fight with oral cancer.
The experience of losing my mom changed me in many ways. I value my health, family, friends and time more than any possession I could ever earn. It wasn’t until after the attack, when I realized how quickly my life could be taken from me, that I started to ask myself these questions:
“What is my purpose?”
“What am I passionate about?”
“If I had died the night of the attack, what would I have been remembered for?”
“What do I want most out of this life?”
“How am I making a difference?”
I continue to ask myself those questions everyday and many of the answers led me to start Rising Strength and Carol’s Fight . I hope anyone who is reading this right now asks these questions of themselves today.
While I never would have wished the attack to happen, I am grateful for how the experience led me to start living with more purpose and passion. At the time I asked myself those questions, I wanted nothing more than to talk to my mom. Not having my mom for one of the hardest and most intense experiences of my life really drove home that she was gone. However, I felt my mom’s presence constantly during that time and I know without a doubt seeing her fight cancer is what gave me the strength to fight off my attacker. I saw first hand for nine years, that no matter how hard and tough things can be, this life is worth fighting for. This is when I started to get more involved with the Oral Cancer Foundation and start a fundraising campaign in my mom’s honor.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to share my mom’s story with a company, OralID that is determined to save lives and prevent people from suffering the way my mom did. Thank you OralID for traveling to St. Michaels and giving me the opportunity to tell my mom’s story. It wasn’t easy to describe the hardships and all of the details of what my mom endured because of oral cancer but I am so honored that her life will hopefully save others through early detection. I hope that anyone who hears my mom’s story knows that any day you have the ability to eat, drink, speak, laugh, smile and kiss your loved ones is a good day. Oral cancer stole those abilities from my mom. No matter what else is going on in your life, if you have the ability to do those things you are okay and things will get better.
The next few weeks are packed with amazing events for both the OCF and Rising Strength. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all of these opportunities and for the people that make them possible. Thank you just doesn’t seem adequate, but Thank you to all of my friends and family, OralID, the Oral Cancer Foundation, Team Kattouf, Lon Latiolais for your continued support of Carol’s Fight and Go Shake!
As I prepare for the upcoming Boston Marathon and the second Blue Ridge Relay team Rising Strength Blue Ridge Relay Team it’s hard not to think back to the day of the attack. I started my day with a run through Johnson City, something that I had done hundreds of times in the 9 years that I lived there. I ran that day without fear. I remember feeling happy. I was getting ready for a half marathon that would be taking place the following week and preparing for a marathon that I planned to do that upcoming November. It was late September and still warm, but it had started to rain slightly cooling the temperature. It was perfect running weather. I had no idea that I was targeted by a paroled rapist on that run. I was unaware that as I ran back to my house and sat on my porch briefly as I took off my wet running shoes and chatted on the phone with a friend that I was leading my attacker to my home.
Learning to run without fear again has taken time. I would be lying if I said that when I run alone now that I am not jumpy or more aware of who is around me. That I don’t immediately lock the door behind me and make sure that every window is secure before I leave. This is just a part of my life now. It’s easier to run with other people when I’m more relaxed and only focus on running. While training alone is still somewhat stressful, running races in the months after the attack, qualifying for Boston and putting a Blue Ridge team were a huge part of my healing process. The goals and focus that each goal gave me helped me put the attack in the past and focus on how I would use the situation to become a better person.
I am so lucky to have the support of many incredible people who have gotten behind the causes that I believe in. This spring is gearing up to be an unforgettable one! As with all of my races, I hope to bring awareness to not only Rising Strength but to the Oral Cancer Foundation fundraising campaign Carol’s Fight that is in memory of my mom. Bennett Gibbs the owner of Go Shake, reached out to me several months ago offering his support for the Boston Marathon. I’m very excited to represent GoShake as I take on 26.2 miles and cannot thank Bennett enough for his support and donation to Carol’s Fight!
I am so grateful for some recent opportunities for both Rising Strength and Carol’s Fight. I will be sharing more about each of them in the upcoming months. Thank you so much to everyone who continues to support these causes that mean so much to me.