Redstone Photographer Renee Ramge Was Diagnosed with Cancer Two Years Ago This Month. Embracing A Life of Gratitude More Than Ever Before, Today She Takes to the Open Road.

When they thought I had a third cancer, I immediately said to my partner Lewis, ‘I’d better make a joy list.’ It wasn’t hard for me to imagine what was going to be on the top of that list, because it was something that we had been talking about for months. Our long-term future plans included Lewis retiring one day and getting a van and traveling.

I had tasted this lifestyle four years earlier when my daughter and I, in the midst of a challenging health issue, had traveled the west coast in an RV for three months.The days rolled by as we traveled as women, not just mother and daughter, and I loved every moment of our time together. I was hooked on travel.

Fortunately, I was never diagnosed with that third cancer. Regardless, Lewis and I had already made up our minds: We weren’t waiting for another scary phone call or a long-term retirement plan to motivate us. Now was the time to go.

The catalyst for these travels happened one morning in 2016 while I was putting on lotion and felt a lump in my breast. Wisely, I went to the doctor’s office the next day. I wasn’t really all that concerned because a few years ago I had a lump and it turned out to be benign. However, during the ultrasound of the new lump, the technician’s mood changed from friendly banter to all business. Somehow in those moments I knew that things were more serious. What I could never have known in that moment of realization was that despite my impending cancer diagnosis, my life was about to change for the better. Being faced with your mortality gives you a chance for paradigm shifts and growth—an opportunity that isn’t granted to those who die suddenly.

During treatment I learned quickly that, for me, 70 percent of the battle each day was emotional; my greatest medicine came from my own power to heal myself. Every day before I let myself put my feet on the ground I make a point to set my intention: ‘Today is going to be a great day!’ This helps me gather the strength to take on whatever comes my way. Also, to improve my health, I prescribed myself an attitude of gratitude as the cornerstone of my well being. When I lean into gratitude, it gets me through even the most difficult days. For example, at the end of my breast cancer treatments, when I learned that I had a second cancer in my lung, I had to shift the way I was talking to myself from, ‘I can’t believe I have another cancer’ to ‘I’m grateful they found it early.’

Fortifying my self-talk with gratitude brought me out of the darkness. As things got harder in my cancer journey, I had to take it a step further and express my gratitude out loud. When I was in the hospital having a section of my lung removed, I’d stop anyone who was caring for me and ask to hold their hand to tell them I needed to share my mantra, “I’m grateful for you. Come do your work and save my life.” The mantra helped me and my caregivers, even though I think I may have startled the cleaning lady. All of these practices have improved my well being, and I continue them in my life as a survivor.

It’s hard for me to even fathom how many people have cared for me these past two years. With the loving care of my tribe of family and friends, the amazing folks at Calaway Young Cancer Center in Glenwood Springs and CU Health in Denver, I’m here today celebrating life.

After exploring the southwest earlier this spring, Lewis and I are currently in our #VanGoNow RoadTrek exploring Canada and taking in the east coast colors. It’s not lost on us how fortunate we are to be in a position to travel and I can’t tell you how often we hear from people who say that we’re living their dream. Even though adventure and van life is great, what I’m most thankful for each day is the gift of connection. Focusing on being in the moment with whomever or whatever is present. Life lived now can be done wherever you’re standing.