Archive for the ‘cancer’ Category

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How important is it to be happy where you work?

No, I wasn’t fired.

Just about a year ago I quit being a Director of Advertising and Public Relations to become a Senior Secretary.

When news spread that I was making the move, I got the firing question a lot. Legitimate ask. In the sector in which I work, people seldom go from management to the secretarial pool unless they lost the upper job and had to settle for the lower one. That wasn’t my situation.

I’d had the Director position for 8 years and while there were many things I liked about it (and some I still miss), overall I was enjoying it less. The paycheck was great but I worked damn hard to get it, and physically and emotionally, it was taking its toll. My oncologist said it best: “You didn’t survive cancer to kill yourself working, did you?”

No, I didn’t. So I started thinking about moving on.

Then three things happened. The opportunity came up to buy into the shop where my husband Jeremy worked. There was a chance to go back into radio full-time (my first love, as you’ll note from previous posts). And I hit my one year anniversary of being in remission from cancer.

So I took the leap.

The landing was not as soft as expected.

The seller backed out of the shop deal and eventually closed the business, putting Jeremy out of work. The radio station gig went to someone else (who recently quit and I’m just bitchy enough to find that funny). And three months into my new normal hours/less stress job, Jeremy got cancer.

When you jump off the cliff, you don’t think about how to climb back up it. You’re already in the valley – why not just walk out? Poised to make a leap like I did? Do these things:

Have some money in the bank. Less hours and responsibility meant a hefty pay cut for me, and the shop situation suddenly made us a one-income household. Fortunately, we had savings and investments to fall back on. Don’t underestimate the importance of a nest egg.

Take a good look at what you can do and where you can do it. I thought I was leaving to go back to radio. When it turned out I wasn’t, I had to consider what else to do. Being a secretary had never crossed my mind. Just because you’ve always used your skills and experience for one type of job doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable for something totally different. Be open to possibilities.

Realize that who you are in your new position is not who you used to be. It’s been harder going from a manager to a worker than I thought it would be. I don’t miss the management headaches. I do miss having the authority to make decisions without asking, to lead a team, and to voice an idea without vetting it through a higher-up. The lesson here? Look for ways to make a positive impact with whatever power you’re given.

Understand that not all benefits are tied to a paycheck. My wallet is now leaner but my life is richer. My Director job had long hours, too many meetings, a work cell phone I constantly had to monitor, and a combative work environment. Now I have time to spend with those important to me, I’m not up all night trying to solve work problems, my mind is clear at the end of the day so I can get back to doing things I LIKE to do. And my friends and family tell me I’m nicer. I THINK that’s a compliment.

“Never leave a job unless you’re going somewhere better”. We think that means a bigger paycheck, fancier title, roomier office. If those things don’t make you feel better about who you are, maybe climbing a few rungs down the corporate ladder will put you in a place that does.

Have you ever stepped back from a bigger career? Was it the right move for you?

Some of the best times in my memory involve fire.

Relaxing with Jay beside the fire pit on our patio. Laughing with friends around a campfire. Blowing out candles on a birthday cake. The “warmth” of fire – inviting, glowing, happy.

Not the “heat” of fire – destructive, ravenous, terrifying.

I wonder which of the two a wildland firefighter thinks of when they see a flame.

I’m on month #3 of my 12 months of 5K’s to raise awareness about organizations you may not be aware of that are doing good in our world. For March, I want to tell you about a group that helps protect the people who work to protect us when the world literally goes to hell:

Fighting a wildfire seems impossible, doesn’t it? Trying to contain a roaring blaze in an area with few if any boundaries where everything is combustible. But they do it, time and time again. In a volatile world, the people holding fast the front line can make all the difference.

Want to thank them and their families? Visit the Wildland Firefighter Foundation at wffoundation.org. The organization not only offers services on a national level, they also support local events like the Run for Ruhl fundraiser coming up in May in Rapid City, SD in memory of fallen wildland firefighter Dave Ruhl.

So far my 5K quest has highlighted a program that provides travel and lodging funds for cancer patients, a center that offers education and career resources for those just starting out or starting over, and a foundation that reminds us that even the invincible can use our help. Nine months to go – who will I hit the pavement for next? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

If you ever see me running, I’m either escaping from danger or trying to get somewhere that’s closing in 5 minutes.

I’m a walker. Which is the same as a runner except it takes me longer to get there.

We all walk a certain distance every day to get from one place to another to do whatever it is we need to do. I also walk for exercise, physical and mental, mostly alone or with the dogs, but sometimes in groups to benefit causes.

Our community plays host in the spring and summer to a variety of runs and walks to benefit local organizations and events. If it’s a cause I support, I sign up, pay my fee and walk. The longest benefit walk I’ve ever done was the Breast Cancer 3-Day in St. Paul, MN, which was 60 miles walked over the course of 3 days. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of doing in my life.

Planning a walk/run takes time, money and good promotion. While many organizations do it successfully, there are other groups who could benefit from the exposure but may not have the resources. In 2018, I’ll tell you about 12 of them.

Each month this year I’m doing my own 5K to highlight one program or organization that’s doing good in our world. It’ll just be me (and whoever wants to join me) walking 3.2 miles to raise awareness. No entry fee, no tee shirts, no time limit. My first walk was this morning in 8-degree South Dakota weather with barely any wind or ice (which you’ll appreciate if you live in snow country). This is who I was walking for:

Maybe we don’t all have the opportunity to do good things on a grand scale affecting millions of people but as long as you’re upright and breathing, you have the ability to do SOMETHING. Even if that something is telling a couple of people about something good that’s going on in your corner of the world. They could tell a couple friends who tell a couple friends and so on and so on and so on. It worked for selling shampoo – why couldn’t it work for raising awareness?

If you missed it in the video, the program is the Pennies for Robert Bed and Breakfast Program through Countryside Hospice in Pierre, SD.

One month done, 11 to go. If you have an organization or event you’d like me to highlight in the coming months, drop me a comment and some information. I’m always up for a GOOD, long walk.

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And a new tradition begins…

I was never sure if the Christmas sweatshirts were meant as a joke or if my mom was just being festive. She had both a quirky sense of humor and a great love of the holidays so it could have gone either way.

Nearly 20 years ago, she bought herself, my sister and me Christmas sweatshirts on sale at Kmart. They’re exactly what you’re picturing: jaunty red, green and white sweatshirts with plaid appliques of Christmas ornaments or trees or presents. We wore them every Christmas morning through brunch and opening the presents and sometimes for the rest of the day if we didn’t have a need to change. She died 11 years ago this year but I still faithfully wear the sweatshirt every Christmas. Until this year.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be sporting an ordinary gray t-shirt, plain except for a simple declaration across the chest: “Thankful for: REMISSION! 11/24/16”.  On Christmas Day, it’ll be joined by another declaration: “Blessings for…”.

Some people consciously search for something to be thankful for or someone to bless every day. I’m not one of those people. I’m thankful in the moment, seek blessings on the fly.  I’m not a prayerful person. I did eight years of Catholic school, went to Mass six days a week so I figured as an adult, maybe I was “prayed up” at least until my 50’s. But while my circumstances of the past three years haven’t made me a more religious person, I’ve become a more spiritual thinker.

So starting this year, my 50th on this crazy spinning sphere, each Thanksgiving and Christmas I’ll add a phrase to my new “holiday” shirt. Something I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving, someone I think needs an extra blessing for Christmas.

This year was a no-brainer for thankfulness but it won’t be so easy every year and I’m glad about that. Because it will challenge me to really look at how the year’s gone and give some serious thought about what I’m truly thankful for. And to look outside myself at the people and world around me, take clear note of the trials others are facing and ask the man upstairs to please give them a little help.

I’m interested to see how this project goes for the next 10 or 25 or 50 years. What will a 92-year-old Kelly be thankful for? Who will a 67-year-old me see struggling and in need of a hand?

And the fate of “Jolly Red, the Christmas Sweatshirt”? We’re not totally parting ways. I’m hanging it on my front door instead of a Christmas wreath this year so anyone stopping at our house or driving by will see it. If it makes you laugh or crack a smile, great. If it gives you an extra boost of holiday joy, awesome. I think that’s what my Mom intended all along.

Feeling pretty proud of yourself, are you, Cancer? So you kicked my ass today. I don’t know that I’d say you did it fair and square but it happened and I’ll give you that.

Maybe now you’re sitting around, tossing back a couple of cold ones, laughing about how you gave me the shakes, had me so lightheaded I was staggering into walls, and blurred my vision to the point where I had to take the back streets at 10 mph to make it home. Go ahead. So you beat me today. Big deal.

It’s one day. One day in a long succession of days fighting you. It’s not a winning streak. You didn’t knock me out. One day. Big whoop.

Tomorrow’s another day. And guess what, Cancer? It’s going to be MY day, not yours. Some days having cancer is about hope and prayers and positivity. Some days it’s about anger and fear and frustration. Either way, it’s about one day. The day you’re on and doing whatever it takes to make it through that day.

To my friends and co-workers who helped me today, thank you. For popping into my office to check on me. For offering to give me a ride home so I wouldn’t kill anybody. For saying “we’ll make this work” even if it meant doing something you didn’t plan on doing. Thank you for doing that today, without making me feel weak or helpless or sick or less than the person I was before I got cancer. One day I’ll be that person again, and you’ll have helped make that possible.

One day, Cancer, I’m going to kick your ass for good. Maybe you’ll see it coming, maybe you won’t. But it’s coming. One day. Soon.

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My gun-toting granny who was also a nurse, a fieldhand, a church organist and a cancer patient.

My grandma flushed out a thief who was hiding under her house, loaded him into her car, and drove him at gunpoint into town to the sheriff.

My dad, who was there, told me the story. Had I gotten it directly from my grandma before she died, I’d have asked, “Were you scared? How did you know he was under there? Would you have shot him?”

Family and friends are the people we think we know better than anybody else. But do we really? Maybe we would if we just took the time to ask.

For the past 12 years, StoryCorps has given ordinary people the chance to find out extraordinary things about the people they know by simply asking questions.

Through the program, people record interviews with someone who’s made an impact on their life, knowingly or unknowingly, relative, friend or acquaintance. The interviewer picks the questions and hopes the interviewee answers them. And most of the time, they do. The interviews (65,000 of them already) are stored at the Library of Congress and some of them air on National Public Radio.

Our lives are a series of great stories. Happy, sad, scary, exciting, funny, unusual. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are packed with the edited versions of the best (or worst) stories people want to tell about themselves. What about the incredible stories we can tell about others?

In my reporter days, it took tape recorders and reel to reels and notebooks to get the story; today, all you need is a smartphone and an app. StoryCorps has one. It lets you record your own StoryCorps-style interview and upload it to be preserved by the Library of Congress. It even invites you to take a selfie with the person you interviewed.

So, is your grandma tougher than my grandma? We’ll never know unless you ask.

On Aug. 12, 2015, I underwent a stem cell transplant, the goal of which was to push my multiple myeloma into remission. The procedure had some unexpected benefits.

Spam, of the non-blue metal can variety.

Spam, of the non-blue metal can variety.

There are 3,277 less emails in my in-boxes.

I have several email accounts, some that I review on a daily basis, others less often. Recovering from my transplant has given me ample time to cull thousands of unread emails. Among the keepers were guidelines on a new writing contest and a chocolate caramel brownie recipe I’d begged from a friend. Long gone are pleas from the Russian brides to help them find rich American husbands, 120 different secrets on how I can be as thin as Jennifer Aniston, and 294 delivery notifications from UPS for packages I never ordered.

I have a new light fixture in my kitchen. 

The fixture itself had been gathering dust in my basement for five years because the house needs new wiring, the ceiling needs re-painting, we’ll wait until the kitchen is remodeled, etc. Prior to my coming home from the hospital, our house underwent a deep cleaning to protect my weakened immune system. I’m not going to question how the light fixture became a part of that project. I’m just going to smile and bask in the inviting glow now emanating from my kitchen ceiling.

Katie, Andy and Bethannie, members of my amazing transplant team.

Katie, Andy and Bethannie, members of my amazing transplant team.

My faith in people finding their true calling is renewed.

It takes a special kind of person to work in a transplant unit. And they don’t all grow up knowing that’s what they want to do.

Barb was an accountant for 20 years before her stepmother had a stem cell transplant. Barb was one of her caregivers, which was enough to convince her to devote her professional life to caring for transplant patients. Glenda’s bank customers often remarked on her compassion and sense of humor. She thought she could use those skills to do more to help others and now she does as a nurse technician in the transplant unit.

Many of the incredible people who cared for me during my transplant had similar stories. It convinced me that we all have a place in life where we’re truly supposed to be and no matter how long it takes to find it or what circumstances will ultimately lead us to it, if you want to get there, you will.

I no longer think every day about having cancer.

Because I don’t know if I do. And I won’t know for sure until Day +100 when I have another bone marrow biopsy. That means for the first time in over a year, I’m not on chemo. Sure, there are plenty of other new meds to get used to, but mentally and physically, that break from chemo, no matter how short, is huge to me.

Little victories. We all have them. Thanks to my transplant, I’m finding something to be grateful for every day until the anticipated BIG victory arrives on Day +100.

What little victory are you celebrating today?