I grew up in Alabama. There were three years of high school during which I attended a private school. The local public school close to me, Oak Mountain High School, was still under construction and didn't open until my senior year. So for freshman, sophomore and junior years I attended Briarwood Christian School. Perhaps the thing that I value most from my time there was their requirement for all students to log volunteer hours each semester. It seemed like a simple assignment, but for me it was life changing.
Let's be honest, I'm sure there were some melodramatic, teenage eye-rolls that occurred when the requirement was explained each year. The school credit was a given, but what I hadn't counted on were all the life lessons I would credit with that program. I only wish that all schools would follow suit. Fun Fact, my husband is currently a 3L (last year of law school at UNT-Dallas, College of Law) and he is also required to log volunteer hours each year. We lovingly refer to it as the service he's "voluntold" to give. Turns out, the cliche phrase about "it is better to give than to receive" is totally legit.
Since then I've had the chance to assist with many charities and non-profits. During my senior year of high school I worked as a companion for my dear friend, Jurdy. During that time I was able to promote many organizations which benefit cerebral palsy. In college my work as an aid for a young boy with autism created opportunities to advocate for autism awareness and research. During my reign as Miss AL USA, I traveled the state promoting several platforms. And when I won Fear Factor- Special Miss USA Edition on NBC, I had the unique opportunity to partner with a non-profit and donate half my earnings to them. My choice, ironically enough, was the National Breast Cancer Coalition. There have also been charity fashion shows I've walked in or fundraisers I've attended. It seems that at different points in my life certain causes have been right there in front of me making it easy to tackle and support. But over the last ten or so years not one singular cause has really felt like something I could totally dive into and champion. I was a model without a cause. Sure, I'd write a check here or there or show up to give of my time to something important. But it always seemed that those were other people's torches to carry, not my torch. A good fight to fight, but not my fight.
Then on November 28, 2017, I entered the fight of my life. That's the day I received my breast cancer diagnosis and the day the torch was passed to me. It is literally staring me in the face and burning my eyes. I cannot ignore it. I cannot turn away from it. It is now mine and I must fan its flame. It isn't a cause I wanted to bear, I don't even like pink that much. But for the rest of my life, and I plan to live a long one, I will now have a cause that I will own and fight for.
Today I spent my afternoon at Texas Oncology receiving my fourth round of chemotherapy. While I was hooked up to IV's and happy to be killing my cancer, I was also thrilled to finally be working toward my new cause. The company I co-own, Model Makers Group, has partnered with Radz D. Photography and we are already planning a charity event in the fall to improve public policies surrounding breast cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. I have been so blessed during this difficult season of my life that it feels good to be giving back. No need to wait until I'm a breast cancer survivor, I have found my cause, rather my cause has found me, and my advocacy starts now.