The First “Next”


I have this new pink ribbon on my back pack.

The reason I just added it is for all the obvious reasons.  Plus one more.

After everything I’ve been through, I guess I thought–subconsciously, deep in my cute little ego–that since I had already gone through cancer and treatment and come out a survivor, that it was over and that was the last I would ever hear about cancer again for me or for anyone else.  I took one for the team after all.

But that’s not reality.

I have to worry about it almost every day (sometimes I give myself a break from worry, like a mini-vacay) and what’s more is that other people can get cancer.  WHAT?

Chris C’s mom is the first person I heard about getting breast cancer after finishing my battle.  She’s the first “next” in my life.  And truth be told I haven’t ever met her (but she did a great job with her son, my coworker,  and we have this boob thing in common so we’re practically family now).

This news comes, ironically, right after getting a skipping stone from Lauryl.  It’s a rock from Relay for Life that I am to give to the next person I meet/know/hear about having cancer to help give that person hope.  I’m talking two days ago I received this rock.  In person.  And then I hear about my first “next.”  If you don’t believe in the power of the universe and/or God/Jesus/Allah/the Higher Power/Fate/Karma then here is some proof that there is some other magic going on out there (or just stop reading, or keep reading and I will not talk too much about those aforementioned specifics except for maybe the power of the universe, which, if you have read the Alchemist, my favorite book, then you know how it works… or do you?  Or do I even know?  What just happened?)  Accept the mystery, I suppose, revel in it.

As much as I would like to wish this whole cancer thing away, we are so obviously not there yet.  It’s getting better–the research, the treatment, the options, the conversations–but we have a long way to go.  Right now is the critical time for advocacy, to help those going through it and those who are the close support group of those going through it.

What spoke volumes to me was getting texts from coworkers ready to cover shifts before I had even gotten a chance to read my email from Chris about why he had to dash off island (unfortunately, he had another more tragic reason to depart and so I am doubly sad for him).  The people I work with–and this goes for every job I’ve had–are amazing.  I love them.  Yup, it’s true.  They are my family.  I love to see them happy and successful.  Sure, I love when they have name tags on and close-toed shoes (oh, you knew that would be in here!) but more than anything I love to see them shining.  I love to see them helping each other out and not because they were told to but because they are such good, cool, awesome, smart, funny, caring, kind, considerate people.

I like to see them furthering their careers and reaching their potential.  I like to see them aiming for distant goals.  I like to sit in my kayak at work and come up with career options for them (for Chris, I determined he needs to host his own show in Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, we are currently seeking people that can make this happen!).  Oh, don’t worry, work, I’m still monitoring the snorkel skills of passengers while I’m in the kayak.  I can multi-task.

Sometimes I consider a career in HR or career advocacy because I like this so much but then how would I get to surround myself with these cool oceany sciencey piratey people?  (According to spell check, I just made up three words!  Amazing).

Adding “word inventor” to resume.

Oh, I’m back now.

Anyway, those people are rocks.  They–we–will support Chris as he supports his mum.

Now is the time where I have to admit to you that I got out of bed at 11:30 pm (way past my 9:00 pm bed time) to write this because I couldn’t sleep and it’s now 12:15 am and I have to be up in five hours to work with all of the above-mentioned people.  I could not sleep until I got this out of my brain.  And also note I’ve been in wedding planning mode slash the-final-twenty-eight-days-count-down-to-Mrs.-Sultan-hood-aka-marriage-aka-nuptials.  Let’s just say don’t ask me too many complicated questions over the next few weeks!

Thank you, I love you, and good night!

Oh, and Mrs. C, you now have 150 more people thinking about you, praying for you and wishing you a quick and clean fight, go get ’em!


Who ARE you?

My armpit is numb; I think the new Aluminum-free deodorant made it on but I can’t really feel it.  I don’t stink, so that’s a plus.  And these pain killers make me loopy and relaxed, it’s great.

In these days post-surgery, of waiting for results, managing pain and focusing on simply eating, resting and reading, it has occurred to me that many of you may not know who I am and what I’ve been up to in life. Some of you left off with me in high school or college, some of you have relied on updates from Mama Neff over the years, some of you may know nothing about me, except that big glaring c-word that sits on my chest.

Let’s cover some highlights…

June 30, 1983: Welcome to the world.  9 pounds and 3 ounces, and the youngest of three (we were all fat babies, which is surprising since we’re all tall and skinny!).  I’ve got a big brother six years older than me–Erik–and another middle big brother three years older than me–Ethan.  My mom, Sandy, is/was a nurse practitioner in Dorchester, MA and my dad, Bruce, is/was a director of materials at Data General in Westboro and Southboro, MA.  The parentals are retired now; they have become my personal care system… good thing I ended up in Maui and not Minnesota!

We spent summers and ski weekends on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.  I picked blueberries and lived in my swimsuit, staring eye to eye with inch long baby fish for hours on end.  My career was set before I even knew what career meant (or job for that matter, though my first job was selling blueberries and big thanks to the neighbors, my only customers).

I was a quiet and curious baby (yeah, like I remember, it just sounds good).  Growing up, I was always shy and observant, watching my big brothers do boy stuff and remembering how not to get caught for things.  By the time, I came of age and was interested in parties, the reigns of parenting had lightened anyway.  Plus, let’s be honest, I was never really the badass rule breaker.  I did well in school, I worked hard, took AP classes, I always did my homework; I was an obedient rule follower (most of the time).  I had a great circle of friends at school and was focused on academics.

I did figure skating and gymnastics as a kid but never really stuck it with organized sports through high school.  I got into kickboxing for a while with my friend Maris but that was about it from the sports side; I left that to the bros.  I was a very emotional teenager and have continued such as an adult.  When I was young, I couldn’t understand it but as I’ve matured I’ve learned that I am very susceptible to the expectations of others and that my ability to empathize with others is overwhelming: I take on other people’s emotions in certain situations but then need extra time alone to process those out and then process mine out.  It can be exhausting!  But it led me to my interest in psychology, customer service, and management.

Junior year of high school I decided I wasn’t going to college.  Wrong!  Not an option!  You’re going!  Ok, mom and dad.  I dragged my feet a little but figured it out.  I decided I wanted to study nothing…….. except marine biology.  One foot on Roger Williams University campus and I knew I would be applying early and only there: right size (small undergrad community), right place (Rhode Island, far enough from home but not too far, on the water), right feel.  I met another group of amazing people who grew into life with me.  It is my strong belief that college isn’t just for academics, but more for learning how to be an adult, how to F up (how to fail your first class because when the hell am I going to use calculus in my real life?  Stupid calculus), how to make good and bad decisions; oh, and how to do all that while on scholarship.  And while doing two years of early morning crew (rowing long boats while watching harbor seals) club sport.

During my senior year, I lived out a lifelong dream: I studied abroad in Australia and SCUBA dove the Great Barrier Reef.  In retrospect, it didn’t live up to the hype.  The reef was trashed where I went but I imagined that that the rest of the reef, where people don’t usually go, was pristine.  It’s an unrealistic hope in this day and age but it’s a driving force in me wanting to tell people to protect the ocean.  Kim, Jo, remember the creepy diver man with the belly button ring?!  Note to men: don’t get a belly button ring!  Gross.  I thought that was a given.

Post graduation, it was the big “now what” question.  Well, shit, I’ve always wanted to live in California (I strongly disagree with cold weather and humans subjecting themselves to it all the time), time to apply for big girl jobs there.  Thirty applications later, I ended up with a job at Inside the Outdoors as a naturalist for fourth graders in Newport Beach, California.  I drove cross county with my future roommate Veronica and we met Laura as we were signing the lease: all new imports to CA.  Big scary steps taken for the sake of adulthood.

Within two months I was at a preferred job, instructor at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, CA.  I was taking my marine biology degree, throwing in my psych minor and teaching all age groups about science and California state history.  I was working on boats and watching whales and dolphins and encouraging understanding and conservation.  I was living more dreams out.  I was meeting like-minded people.  Over time, I became a coordinator in the Outdoor Education department, then a co-Director with my friend Sara.  Finally, I jumped into my favorite role as Assistant Director to the At Sea department.  Basically, you add a lot of budgeting and big kid stuff to the fun teaching and program development stuff and stir it up with some fishermen hating Marine Protected Areas and we call it my job.  And I will still call some fishermen from there ignorant to their impacts on the ocean.  Those jerks.

Three years with the company and it was time for something, somewhere new.  My friend Ash had moved to Maui and started working for Pacific Whale Foundation.  She said apply and I did.  Time to jump farther from home, cross the Pacific and start staring at 45-foot long humpback whales.  Endangered species in paradise and a full platform to encourage conservation through education?  YES, please!  I work on boats and take people snorkeling and whale watching.  Yes, I also clean up a lot of vomit (A LOT) and assure people that yes, the waves normally get this big and no, you wont die.  That may not be my favorite part but the opportunities to learn and love the ocean out here are limitless.  Learning (not in a forced classroom setting) is still a passion of mine.  Smart and a smart ass, right?!  Plus the people I work with are incredible.

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”  ~Native American Proverb

Currently, I also work as a naturalist at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua.  It is refreshing to work for my first FOR-profit.  There is definitely a difference but customer service (there’s that psych degree again) is what it always comes back to.

After being in Maui for six months, I met this man.  You know his name, Sean.  I had planned on giving Maui six months and then maybe moving on and back to the mainland but he threw a wrench in there and I decided to stay.  He’s not at all the person I thought I would be with–tattoos everywhere–but that’s not all he is.  I’m gonna tell them, Sean, who you are.  And you can’t stop me cause it’s my blog!  But I wont tell them every mushy detail.  Sean is the kind that looks badass (and he can be) on the exterior but he’s all sweetness on the inside.  He has a heart of gold and is the most caring person I know.  He’s also the best gift buyer too because he gets people; he’s interested in psychology more than I am and he’s a natural at reading people.  He loves the ocean and snorkeling and diving (he just passed his dive master test yesterday!).  He is kind and patient (I started this blog on his birthday, he is very patient).  And I know that Sean will be here with me through it all.  Plus, we have a dog child (Scupper, black lab/ridgeback mix, 5 months, perfect) together and our dog child doesn’t know us as Serena and Sean but as mommy and daddy.  Yeah, we’re set for life 🙂  I love him and our little Maui family.











The only thing I can’t get to fit in here (dinner is almost ready and my parents have been interrupting me every five minutes, I think they are checking me for signs of life) is every person in my life that has touched my life and made me who I am.  Last I checked, this thing had 1,300 views.  So all of you, every one of you would be in here but I just can’t start typing all of that!  Here, let’s do this.  Just write your name here: I love _______________ and I think that covers most of it!

I’m sure I’ve left out some details but that’s where you come it.  Your homework (aha, you thought I was done assigning boob checks and the like!) is to remember a good story and reminisce and then go on with your day.  Something that makes you smile, preferably.