My Sunny Side

Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Hello friends! I’m just coming back from a week in Costa Rica and I can’t stop smiling. We had the most amazing vacation and it was so nice to have a getaway. It’s such a fulfilling feeling when you finally get to see somewhere that you’ve always wanted to see. What’s that place for you?

For a long time, it’s been Costa Rica for me. Why? All the animals, all the flora and fauna—I love it all. So when this dream came true, I had to pinch myself. We had an incredible time immersing ourselves in nature. Just listening to the sound of the birds every morning was a new peace that I needed. I thought I would share some of my favorite pictures with you to share some of the adventures.

Our trip started out in San Jose, the capital, and we were only briefly there. We then took a small plane to La Fortuna to see the Arenal Volcano. It was beyond beautiful with the masses of plants and flowers and of course, the volcano itself was stunning. We also loved getting to experience the hot springs. Animal sightings included iguanas, frogs, snakes, and tons of birds. Also not to be forgotten is our chocolate tour on an authentic cacao farm owned by the locals.

We then headed off to Manuel Antonio—a beach city on the Pacific coast. What a beautiful scene it was. This was definitely my favorite part of the trip because we saw so much wildlife. Sloths, monkeys, scarlet macaws, bats—it was all so fantastic. You never knew when something might surprise you. We hiked over seven miles in Manuel Antonio National Park and we also had a great catamaran ride in the morning. Next time I go back I definitely want to go parasailing!

It was the perfect getaway that we needed. Life has been so busy for us and we need a breath away from everything. It’s been a little hard this week getting back in the swing of things but it’s a little easier knowing that I got to experience a lifelong dream come true.

I hope you can start to make plans to your dream destination. Looking forward to it is just as much a part of the fun.

Pura vida, amigos!

 

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

My Early Christmas Present

I know a lot of people are saying that 2016 has been a bad year and they can’t wait for it to be over, but I still believe there are things to be grateful for. No matter how hard it gets, there is always a little bright light left.

I saw a little bit of that light a few days ago. Actually, it was a blindingly bright light that just changed the trajectory of my life.

Let me start from the beginning. Unfortunately, I come from a family where cancer has liked to claim a stake. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35 (she’s alive and well today), my aunt was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 55 (she’s alive and well, too) and my grandma was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her early 60’s (she has since passed on but she lived to be 91 years old). So as you can tell from that paragraph, we’ve had lucky breaks from unlucky circumstances.

With my Grandma Farr the night I won Miss Teen California back in 2006.

With my Grandma Farr the night I won Miss Teen California back in 2006.

I was two years old when my mom was diagnosed with cancer so I have grown up having some understanding of what this disease entails. While I don’t remember my mom going through chemo or having surgeries, there were still ripples of her illness all throughout my childhood that served as reminders of what she went through.

Mom and me on a recent trip to Mammoth this past summer.

Mom and me on a recent trip to Mammoth this past summer.

As time went on, our family decided to get tested for the BRCA I and II genes. All of the diagnoses seemed like more than just coincidence. My grandma, aunt, and mom were tested at UCLA about ten years ago and they all had the same variance on the BRCA II gene. At the time the researchers said it was inconclusive. Not enough information to say one way or the other. It could just be chance.

Flash forward ten years. I am now 25. Growing up with all of this information, it has always been important to me to equip myself with as much knowledge as possible. I know that some people hesitate to find out this information about their genetic make-up (and that is a personal decision), but I know that I needed to do the testing for myself. I think back to my mom surviving stage III cancer with a two year old at home and I immediately knew that I want to be as preventative as possible.

So, a few weeks ago, my mom and I went back for testing at UCLA. I cried the morning of the testing but when I saw my mom, we kept it light. I think we both secretly knew how intense this day could be but we decided to stay positive. When you sit in the heaviness of what could be, it’s just too much. We made a mother-daughter day of it and went out for lunch and shopping afterward.

But at the testing, I felt that much more nervous when our genetic counselor told us that the variance that my mom, grandma, and aunt has is actually 95% likely to be pathogenic. The research in the past 10 years has taken those originally inconclusive results and reframed them as mutative agents that are much more likely to lead to cancer than in the average person. Okay, good to know.

So you can imagine how I felt when I answered the phone on Wednesday and my genetic counselor was on the other line. Words, words, words…just tell me what I want to know.

“Your test results came back negative. You do NOT have the pathogenic genes.”

There is that blinding, bright light I am talking about. I had prepared myself to hear the worst—to start thinking about prophylactic surgeries and hormone therapies someday. I had not prepared myself for the news that I do not have the same gene as my mom, grandma, and aunt. In so many ways I have wanted to be like my mom but in this sense, I am glad we are different. I can also say this knowing that my mom has taken every preventative measure possible so I can breathe a sigh of relief.

This news is definitely my Christmas present this year. Telling my mom the good news and seeing the shock and then tears come over her face was one of the best moments I have had in my life. Our prayers have been answered and I could see in that minute that my mom was even more relieved than I was. My dad and grandma were just as excited. I know it’s all just chance, but I feel like I have won the lottery.

Just because you get genetic testing, and the results come back negative, it does not mean you are immune. I know that. I will still take preventative steps and get mammograms when I turn 30. These results should not and will not breed ignorance. But they do bring me some peace. That is something I am grateful for.

If something runs in your family, I’d encourage you to consider genetic testing like our family did. No matter how the results come out, the knowledge is empowering. It does not determine the decisions you make, but it certainly informs them.

Hug your family and friends a little tighter in these last few days of 2016. There are still bright lights all around you.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

A Story You Need to Hear

Well, it’s been quite a week—I have to comment on it. Last week didn’t start off so great, but once again I am reminded of how much more GOOD there is in the world than bad. My heart is just so warmed by this story that I can’t keep it to myself.

So our tale begins with an innocent trip to none other than Black Angus in Burbank. Real wild place. I was getting dinner with my boyfriend’s family and had a nice time catching up. Mind you, we were all particularly excited because we just got a new (used) Honda Civic. After driving a (gold) Toyota Corrolla for over ten years, I was more than ecstatic to get a new car. I had been pining for one for quite a while and was just over the moon about this new (silver) car.

So you can imagine my horror when we walked back to the parking lot and saw the glass shattered on the back passenger window. It took me a second to realize what had happened…and then after I saw the window jiggled open I knew. At first I didn’t think anything had been stolen and then I remembered. I had a testing kit, called the WISC, right in that spot. Now if you’re interested in child assessment, you would know that this test kit costs a pretty penny—over a thousand dollars to be exact. But to a thief, I can only imagine the disappointment they had when they opened the briefcase only to find blocks and children’s pictures. Almost as disappointed as me.

So the next day, with a heavy sigh, we took the car to the dealership to have the window and door fixed. $800, please. And then I went to the testing center at Pepperdine. Sorry for what happened to you, but you still owe $500. Even bigger sigh. With a big tuition bill coming up, I went numb in my seat.

And then the story changed.

Some of my classmates found out about my plight. So many of them checked in with me and said they were sorry about what happened to me. That would have been enough. But then, after I returned from my trip to State College, Pennsylvania, a classmate came up to me and handed me an envelope. In it was a card filled with kind words from all of my classmates AND almost $300 to help me pay for the WISC kit. All a surprise to me, they pooled together to help me out, just like that.

WOW.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that degree of generosity. I was floored. The amount of love and compassion sent my way was just beyond. For feeling so sad about what happened, I felt a hundred times more gratitude and hope for our world. There are such good people out there, and I’m lucky enough to have some of them in my life. Mind you, we’ve known each other for just about three months and they looked out for me. It’s comforting to know that they all have the ambition to be psychologists someday—can you define a more empathetic and understanding group of humans?

I just felt like this amount of goodness was too good to keep to myself. Stories like these should be shared. I am inspired to give when I can and take part in those acts of kindness whenever I can. My classmates showed me what true thoughtfulness is…incredible.

Can we put them on the Ellen show now?

With the holidays approaching, I hope that only wonderful things come your way. And if you have a bit of bad luck like I did, I hope there is someone who is willing to offer love and hope to remind you that there is still much more good than bad in our world.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
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