Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

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.

As the last strains of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” (released a hundred years ago and now considered classical music) echo through the control room speakers, the paramedics draw the sheet over my faded “Your face was made for radio” t-shirt. They gently remove the headphones from my greyed head before covering my face and wheeling me out the front door I’ve held keys to longer than to any other place in my life. As they slide the gurney into the ambulance, one medic says, “I grew up listening to her.” The other replies, “So did my parents. And grandparents.”

That’s how I imagined my radio career would end. It ends this Sat., July 18, 2015 for reasons I wouldn’t have imagined. 

Running the board at KJJQ, circa 1987

Running the board at KJJQ, circa 1987

Radio is all I ever wanted to do. Growing up, I recorded my own radio shows on a suitcase-sized tape recorder. At 19, I went on the air as an intern at KIMM/Hit 100 in Rapid City, SD and from there to a real announcer’s job with KJJQ/Q102 in Brookings, SD. I ended up at what’s now KCCR/KLXS in Pierre, SD where, with a few short lapses, I’ve spent nearly 25 years, moving from news director to sales rep to promotions director to PSA director and announcer.

For many years now, the radio station hasn’t felt like a job but more like a second home. A place I go to talk to my friends about anything and everything, to play good music, to inform and entertain. When I started in radio, we played the National Anthem before every sign-on, wrote copy on a typewriter, and used reel-to-reels, carts and turntables. That gave way to cassettes then CD’s then computers and satellite feeds. I feel old yet privileged to have been there for all those changes in my industry.

Deciding to leave was hard. Life made the decision for me. Many of my listeners might not know that for the last 16 years, I’ve had two jobs: a full-time job with the State of South Dakota, and my radio station gig. One feeds my family, the other feeds my soul. When I was diagnosed with cancer last year, I didn’t consider quitting either one, although if forced to, which one to leave was obvious. But I’m stubborn and I didn’t want to go. Through testing, treatment, bone marrow biopsies, crappy chemo days and finally stem cell harvesting, I went on the air as many days as I could. Some days they weren’t my best shows ever but they were the best show I could give that day. Thanks for listening, either way.

I have a stem cell transplant coming up next month and I know it’ll kick that cancer to the curb. But when the transplant and recovery period are over, there can be only one. Job, that is. And practicality, which is not always my strong suit, has dictated which one it has to be.

I’ll miss the people, the spontaneity, the pace, the thrill of not knowing what’ll happen during my show and how to tell you about it when it does. And I’ll miss having a place to go to just be myself. I’ve never used an on-air name that wasn’t my real name because I always wanted radio to just be me on the air with an open mic and something to say.

Maybe my departure from radio isn’t for forever but for just right now. I’ve left and been hired back several times over the years. But if it doesn’t happen again, that’s O.K. Life really is about time – how much you have and what you do with it. I’ve spent a lot of my time working. When you catch your second wind in life, maybe you should use it to climb new mountains and conquer new peaks. Some people go their whole lives without ever getting to do what they really want to do. I got to live my dream for well over half my life and it’s been the BEST TIME EVER.

My last “Kelly Thompson Show” this Saturday will be all requests, as many as I can find the music for and fit into two hours and 52 minutes. Those last 8 minutes are all mine for the final “Three Stories Hot off the Wire” and my good-bye song which will remain a secret until it’s played. If there’s something you want to hear between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. CT July 18, please post it in the comments below or email it to kelly@todayskccr.com by noon on July 16.

If you’re within 150 miles in any direction of Pierre, SD this Saturday morning, tune me in on your radio at 1240 AM. And if you’re not, I’ll be streaming live at todayskccr.com. It’ll just be me on the air with an open mic and something to say.

Kel on the air

Talking the talk in my control room

It's all in the attitude, baby.

It’s all in the attitude, baby.

Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer this spring, I was informed I wasn’t suffering enough.

What he said:

You’re not having surgery? Marjean had a double mastectomy.

You’re keeping your hair? Chuck went bald…twice.

You have insurance. Joan didn’t have any; we’re still doing benefits.

You don’t know what REAL cancer is.

What I could have said:

I get a kidney transplant if the chemo doesn’t work.

Hair grows back.

I’ve had cancer insurance since I was 19 because my mother, who died from cancer, was planning ahead.

You don’t know shit about my experience with REAL cancer. 

What I DID say:

Nothing. I walked away and quit telling people I had cancer.

I’m a third generation cancer patient; there has never been a time in my life when a family member wasn’t battling, beating or dying from cancer. I knew what chemo was before I knew where babies came from. I was so used to bald relatives I couldn’t recognize them with hair. Cancer was something people in my family GOT; this spring, it was just my turn.

Publicly I’ve helped with countless cancer benefits; logged miles in numerous cancer walks, including the 60-mile Breast Cancer 3-Day which I’ll do again next summer in memory of my mom if my doctor says I can; attended cancer awareness and memorial ceremonies; written articles and PSAs about cancer; and amassed an impressive collection of “Cancer Sucks” gear.

Privately I’ve shaved heads when the hair started to go; changed diapers on loved ones who changed mine when I was a baby; squeezed hands during chemo treatments; told doctors to go to hell when they announced there were only months left; whispered goodbye over the phone in the middle of the night because I couldn’t drive the hundreds of miles fast enough to do it in person; and been a pallbearer and a eulogist.

Don’t know what REAL cancer is? Screw you.

Many people live with cancer without ever having it. When you do get that diagnosis, no matter how well it’s delivered (and my doctor did a great job with the news), it scares the hell out of you. Because cancer kills people; everybody knows that.

Myeloma’s not killing me and it’s doubtful it will. It’s one of those cancers where the conditions it can cause – in my case, total kidney failure – is worse than the cancer itself. So I take chemo, do IV treatments, have bone marrow biopsies and wait to see what happens. Do I feel lucky that’s the kind of cancer I have? Every day. Do I feel guilty that I’m getting off easier than so many other people with cancer? Every day.

Unless you’re knocking on death’s door, there will always be someone whose burden is heavier, whose suffering is greater than yours. That can’t diminish the impact of a cancer diagnosis on you and the people who love you. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t have enough cancer to matter. It matters to you and that’s enough.

You may not have heard of myeloma, but you WILL know these people who have or had it: Tom Brokaw, Geraldine Ferraro, Peter Boyle, Roy Scheider, Ann Landers, and Sam Walton.   

To raise money for any worthy cause, you need a flexible plan, belief in what you’re doing, and comfortable shoes.

The Thompsons, resplendent in pink, at “Viva La Vonda”.

Last weekend, our family put on a fundraiser for my sister-in-law Vonda who is battling breast cancer. For the past several months, a core committee of six – my sister-in-law Bonnie; niece Savannah; friends Jeanne, Judy and Lisa; and myself – planned and prepared for the event, amassing a small army of friends and family members to help solicit donations, hang flyers, sell raffle tickets, arrange for food and entertainment, and otherwise try to cover every small detail imaginable.

“Viva La Vonda” (good fundraisers need catchy names) became a reality on November 17 at a local community center that holds about 400 people. We nearly filled it. It was an evening of amazing highs and lows, moments of startling generosity and emotion, inspirational, frustrating and funny. Here’s what we learned and how it can help you:

Be a Gumby. You have to be flexible. Yes, the silent auction tables you spent hours setting up look wonderfully inviting but people will bring donations with them that night. Accept them graciously, throw up another table, have extra bid sheets handy. The beer at the “Beer for Boobs” booth may run out hours earlier than expected. Go get more. And when it runs out again, someone may step up and donate $100 worth of beer to keep you selling a little while longer. Someone did that for us. The free will offering chili feed could end 15 minutes early when all the food is gone. Most unfed people will understand. They’ll go up the street to the nearest restaurant, grab a quick bite and come back. Because they’ll know that cooking for a crowd of undetermined size is a crapshoot and they’ll appreciate that you tried.

Trust others…but not everybody. A real auctioneer works the crowd, fuels bidding rivalries and entertains while he sells. Hire one. Get a band that knows the guest of honor; they’ll play her favorite song at just the right moment. Put volunteers used to dealing with money and customers in the payment booth for your auctions. They’ll get it all figured out in the end, even when bidders are picking the wrong items up off the tables and spilling beer on the bid sheets. Realize that you can’t trust everybody. If you think people won’t steal at a benefit, you’re wrong. Whether it’s beers from a cooler when the bartender is helping someone else or palming a handmade necklace off the silent auction table, it’ll happen. If you find the perpetrator, punish accordingly. If you don’t, make amends to the aggrieved as best you can. 

Keep talking. People don’t come to events they don’t know about. The time to stop putting up flyers is when you can’t walk into any place in town and not see one. We used free public service announcements on our local radio and TV stations, did live radio interviews the week of the fundraiser, maintained a Facebook event page about it, and casually dropped it into every conversation we had for weeks. People may have been tired of hearing us talk about it but they remembered to come.

Don’t try to please everybody. You never will. Some people will complain about the food, the price of the beer, the selection of auction items, the seating, the parking, that they didn’t get a winning raffle ticket, that you’re not taking credit cards. We actually had one person who made all of those complaints, repeatedly, to nearly every adult family member working the event as well as to anyone who would listen to her. It was finally suggested that since everything INSIDE the building was not up to her expectations, perhaps she should see if things OUTSIDE were more to her liking. I don’t know if they were or not and honestly, I don’t care.

Kylar makes a lasting impression on the “Thumbprint” picture.

This time, it’s personal. When you do this kind of fundraiser, it becomes personal the moment you make their illness public. Vonda shares her cancer battle on her Facebook page and will discuss it with anyone who asks her. At the benefit, we wanted to give people more than just a chance to help defray her medical expenses; we gave them an opportunity to assist in her recovery. Everyone was invited to put their thumbprint on a special picture that now hangs in Vonda’s house and sign her “Hope” book, a scrapbook of messages that she can read whenever she needs a boost. One of the highlights of the evening was when she took to the stage with her husband Todd and son Daulton and thanked everyone for their love and support. Make it personal, because it is.

Celebrate the unexpected. Like a high school classmate willing to shave his head for cash donations. Or the moment you realize the freezer that you put 12 pounds of frozen donated meat into was actually not a freezer and you are now handing over a dripping bag of thawing burger to the highest bidder. Or when you notice the crowd is not just pushing tables and chairs back to make room for a dance floor, they are actually taking them down and putting them away so you don’t have so much to clean up at the end of the night. Or that the one keeping your workers’ spirits up is an exuberant four-year-old named Kylar who is proudly wearing a tiny tie-dyed pink t-shirt that proclaims “Stop the War in my Rack.” These are the moments that make memories, people.

Keep success in perspective. “Viva La Vonda” raised somewhere in the $20,000 range. Although the cost of fighting cancer is immense (I know this from my mom’s own lost battle), the money donated through the fundraiser is a great start. At the end of the night, when you can finally sit down, kick the shoes off your aching feet, and crack the beer that was thoughtfully hid back for you, keep this in mind: good benefits raise more than just money. They raise spirits, awareness, and support. You can’t put a price on that.

Vonda (right), our guest of honor, with her sister, Bonnie.

“You oughta have your head examined,” said the doctor. Not the first person to tell me that but the first one with the authority to make it happen. Which is how I ended up frozen in a tube, listening to Hell’s little cobblers banging their hammers in my ears.

I’ve undergone countless medical tests over the last 35 years but unfamiliar procedures still make me nervous. I handled the news of my brain MRI like any other mature adult would: I surfed the Internet for information about the torture device in question and queried friends and family who’ve gone through it for their advice. The best response came from my sister, who lovingly said, “Suck it up and don’t be a baby.”

For the uninitiated, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner is a big, powerful magnet that partners with a radio transmitter and receiver to map three-dimensional images of your body. It does that by freaking out your protons with radio waves and then tracking the radio signals. For this to happen, you lay motionless inside a big magnetic tube and listen to tiny little jackhammers going off at different frequencies all around you.

Now that I’ve gone through my MRI, in the interest of public education, I offer the following tips to anyone who may be sliding into the shiny coffin of cacophony in the near future:

Keep your pants on. Hospital gowns are designed for easy access. As a former hospital candy striper in my early teens, I witnessed more full moons than a “Twilight” werewolf.  If you don’t want to have a breezy backside when they’re shooting radio beams into you, go comfortable and metal-free. Sweats, t-shirt, sports bra, no jewelry, and if you have piercings, TAKE THEM OUT. Big magnet, remember? Keeping your nipple rings on when they flip the switch may give you perky breasts again in 0 to 2 seconds but baby, it’s gonna hurt.

Take the potty break. Nothing makes me have to pee more than someone telling me I won’t be able to for an undetermined amount of time. Doesn’t matter if you’ve hit every rest room from the lobby to Radiology, if they offer you the chance to go before the MRI begins, take it. If loud noises scare the piss out of you, you’ll thank me.

Keep your mind occupied. MRI’s are loud. Like stick your head in a metal coffee can and let somebody shoot BB’s at it loud. Pings, bongs, clangs. Focusing on something else can help. My sister, whose MS requires her to get MRI’s on a somewhat frequent basis, counts from 1 to 100, forward and backward, until it’s over. I wrote dialogue in my head for a new story. It mostly consisted of “Shut up, shut up, for the love of God, SHUT UP!” But it helped.

Claustrophobia is not a crime. I discovered I was claustrophobic several years ago while walking through a 600-foot tunnel to an underground waterfall. The trip in took 15 minutes. The trip out took half that. The technician will ask you before the test if you’re claustrophobic. If you are, that’s the time to tell them. Not when they’ve got you shoved halfway into a can which barely gives you enough room to scratch whatever’s itching.

Push the button.  One of the last things the technician will do is put a squeeze bulb in your hand. That’s the panic button. You probably won’t have to use it but it’s comforting to know you have the option. But keep in mind, while squeezing it will buy you a quick trip back out into the great wide open, it also means the whole process starts over from the beginning.

The most grueling part of an MRI comes after you’ve been sprung from the tube and sent on your merry way – waiting for the results. To those of you still waiting, best wishes and good luck.

Three early mornings a week, I hit the gym. It’s a new habit I’ve been cultivating since the middle of January. I’m the slightly overweight middle-aged chick on the first elliptical machine just past the treadmills, the one whose mini T.V. monitor is always turned off and whose ears are bud-free. It’s not because I’m that focused; I just want to be able to hear any bones break or muscles tear before the excruciating pain gets to my brain.

I warm up by walking the dogs a few miles and when I go to the gym, I start on the elliptical. I finally know how to program it but I consistently miss one little step: entering my weight and age. A minute into the workout, the digital readout reminds me of the omission and I dutifully punch in the numbers after which the screen cheerfully reads, “Weight and age accepted!” I snort amidst the panting. If I accepted my weight and age, I wouldn’t be sweating my ass off in a gym at an hour when across town they’re up making my favorite apple fritters at the Donut Shop.

Aside from the walking thing, which I am obsessively devoted to and have been for years, I’m a slacker when it comes to organized exercise. Prior to this year, the last time I was a gym member, legwarmers and belted leotards were fashionable exercise attire and if anybody asked if you did Pilates, you might have answered, “No, but I tried ‘shrooms once at a keg party.” It’s not exactly a lack of commitment that’s kept me from being a “Body by Somebody”. It’s that starting out in a gym can be so damn intimidating.

My current gym is open 24 hours a day and not knowing what constituted peak hours, I went my first morning at about 6:30 a.m. I walked into a two-story hive of buzzing activity, and as the door closed behind me, I had a sudden urge to run screaming out into the dark parking lot. The scene was worse than I had imagined. Not only was most of the equipment occupied but the place was chockfull of “Afters“.

In the weight loss ad of life, I’m a “Before“. It’s what you start out as when you finally realize that cold mac n’ cheese is not the perfect breakfast food, and that a chin-up isn’t something you hold to get your shirt buttoned. “Afters” run backwards on treadmills without falling down and count zero as both a body fat indicator and the size of their yoga pants. I’ve never been an “After”, but I knew that morning that if I was ever going to stop being a “Before“, I had to waltz into that gym and do what needed to be done. So I sucked in what could reasonably be constricted without causing me to pass out, grabbed a towel and marched to the first elliptical machine.

I stepped on cautiously. If you knew my history of broken bones, torn muscles and strained tendons, you’d understand why I approach anything that sways when you walk on it with trepidation.  Grabbing the arm supports, I waited for the slimming to begin. Half a minute passed before the whip-thin blond on the treadmill next to me paused in her Bionic Woman dash to say,” You need to move your feet back and forth to get it started.”

“Thanks,” I said, flush with embarrassment. I swung my good leg (actually the lesser of my two bad legs) forward and the screen came alive with instructions. I had just settled into a lumbering rhythm and could feel the sweat beading on my forehead when a 20-something with calf muscles like chiseled marble stepped up.

“When it’s busy like this, you’re not supposed to hog the machines. People are waiting,” he said.

I stopped, feeling like an idiot for what was so clearly “Before” behavior. I apologized, and quickly wiped the machine down so he could take his turn. A spot opened up on a nearby recumbent bike and I pedaled for 10 minutes before heading upstairs to use the handful of weight machines I knew how to operate. Twenty minutes later, I was in my parked car texting to my BFF Lynnette (of Wordtabulous fame) about the horrible mistake I’d made in joining a gym.

I didn’t go back for three days. I did my pre-dawn walking as usual, rode my bike at home, lifted some weights and wondered why skinny, fit people had to be so bitchy. They weren’t all BORN “Afters“, were they? Some of them HAD to have started out as “Befores“. So what was their problem?

The more I wondered, the less I cared. I paid my membership dues like everybody else and “Afters” or not, I was using that gym. I now go earlier when traffic is minimal so I can use the equipment as long as I want; I follow an actual routine so I’m not just wandering around asking myself, “Will that machine make my ass smaller?”; and I’ve begun talking to some of the other people who work out the same time I do. Sometimes they even answer me back, though the most I get from the power lifters is a nod and a grunt between reps (it seems like a positive response and even if it isn’t, I’m taking it as one).

So join me and rise up, “Befores” – it’s our time. We’ll worry about “After” when we get there.