Imagine being told you have cancer. Just when you think it’s all behind you, imagine being told you have it again.
That’s the story of my 13-year fight with breast cancer.
It started innocently enough. During a routine physical, my doctor found a lump. She was worried and insisted on a mammogram.
The mammogram looked suspicious, so I had a biopsy. The news came back that I had breast cancer. Treatment for me was a mastectomy. Fortunately, my tumor was isolated, so I didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy. I did, however, have reconstructive surgery.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a support group, because I couldn’t identify with people there. Many were mad at their doctors and the medical profession. I wasn’t. My doctor found the lump – she didn’t put it there! Also, most support group members were married with children. I’m not married and don’t have children, so we couldn’t relate to each other. I wanted those things too, but I felt like “damaged merchandise.” It took me a long time before I could even watch a commercial with a baby in it!
In 2004, I celebrated five years without cancer! I learned the five-year mark means you’re practically home free. It was a bittersweet milestone. A few months before, I lost my brother in a car accident. Now, I didn’t have one of my best friends to celebrate with. Later that year, I was diagnosed with depression.
Fast forward six years. I noticed a bump below my breast I hadn’t seen before. I saw my doctor who thought it might be fatty tissue. It didn’t go away and became red. My doctor sent me to a surgeon for a second opinion. The surgeon said she’d remove it, but wanted to run some tests. Two MRIs, three biopsies, about six ultrasounds and a PET scan later, I was told that I had breast cancer again. The surgeon said it was already at Stage 3. I know that’s not good, but I wasn’t ready to give up my fight!
Since then, I’ve been receiving a form of chemo that’s non-toxic. I recently had surgery to remove the tumor and started taking yet another medicine.
I’ve tolerated treatment fairly well. Unless you know me personally or saw my name on a “Race for the Cure” poster, you wouldn’t even know I’m sick. I could be the person sitting next to you, your neighbor or your best friend.
My fight continues. I want researchers to find a cure. I need them to find a cure! Not only for the women currently fighting this dreadful disease, but for those who unfortunately will follow in our footsteps. I want to see my munchkins (my friends’ children) grow up and graduate from high school. I want to be one of the first out on the dance floor at their weddings.
I’m not giving up – I want to celebrate life!
Monday, May 6, begins “Teacher Appreciation Week.” For all the great things teachers do, it should be a year-round event.
As a parent of two, I deeply appreciate everything my kids’ teachers have done for them. It was their teachers who encouraged their reading and writing. It was their teachers who taught them to play music, solve problems and look for answers.
In many cases, children spend more of their waking time in schools with their teachers than they do with their family. Teachers are role models, coaches, cheerleaders and provide a shoulder to cry on when bad things happen. Their care for students extends beyond school walls.
I’ve seen teachers who can barely make ends meet in their own homes, quietly take up a collection amongst themselves to pay for emergency food or lodging for a homeless family whose child is in their classroom. Sadly, in recent events, we’ve even seen teachers lay down their lives to try and protect their students.
Teachers are called upon to make schools safe for your kids and mine. They break up fights, try to stop bullying, make everyone feel safe and keep order in the classroom. For all that, they get sworn at, get (credible) death threats from students and blame from parents when their child doesn’t do well.
As a society, we ask a lot from our teachers. We entrust our most valuable resource – our children and their future – to them. We ask them to educate and motivate young minds and give them guidance.
Yet the hours are long and the pay is low. Many teachers are in the classroom long before the start of the “contract” day and stay long after. Papers, tests and projects don’t grade themselves. It’s done by a teacher and often at home in the evenings and weekends. The stress takes its toll. Statistically, 45 percent of teachers leave the field after only five years.
I’ve heard people say that teachers have it easy with summers off, time off at Christmas and again in spring. The teachers I’ve met spend that time taking classes to renew their teaching license, planning out the next year’s curriculum or working a second job to make ends meet.
Make no mistake about it – teachers love what they do. They do it to make a difference in a child’s life. They do it to see the excitement in a student’s eyes when they “get it.”
Yet for everything our teachers do, they are seldom shown appreciation. This year, show your appreciation. Take a moment to thank the teachers in your life for all they’ve done.
Once in a while, something happens that makes you stop and appreciate life, small pleasures and big hearts.
American Family really is a big family, and our community is part of that family. One of our American Family members, long-time customer Carol Suchomel, is in hospice care for cancer. In February, learning that her four-year journey with brain cancer was coming to an end, she made a bucket list. It included connecting with Ellen DeGeneres, whom Carol has admired for a long time.
Carol’s niece, Averie Churchill, wanted to help make that dream come true for her aunt. She made a video, reaching out to Ellen. It created a buzz on Facebook that caught the attention of some of Carol’s friends who work at American Family.
Could we help connect Carol to Ellen, and could we do it soon?
It happened this week. Ellen DeGeneres sent an autographed copy of her book “Seriously…I’m Kidding” to Carol. It turns out, Carol is not only a huge fan of Ellen, she’s an avid reader. It turns out, not only does Carol have a lot of friends at American Family, her sister Beth Churchill, works here, too.
I don’t know Carol, and I didn’t know Carol and Beth are related until I ran into Beth yesterday morning, thanking people for helping make this happen for her sister. But last night, I cried as I shared this story with my children. The love this family is showing each other, the love Averie is showing her aunt, the love Beth displays in talking about her sister, and Carol’s strength and passion for life and joy, it’s overwhelming.
Knowing American Family was able to make this dream come true and help bring joy to Carol and her family during this difficult phase of their journey … it’s immensely moving to me and makes me so very proud to be part of American Family.
Once in a while, something happens that makes you stop and appreciate life, small pleasures and big hearts.
American Family Insurance strongly encourages safe driving practices, and we want to lead by example. This spring, we’ve instituted a cell phone usage policy that basically states employees may not use a cell phone or other mobile device to perform work when operating a motor vehicle. Hands-free devices are not encouraged but allowed if for essential company business if not in violation of local laws.
I helped develop that policy after seeing compelling research that provides strong proof that the use of cell phones while driving is a significant distraction to drivers.
To be honest, I thought the few seconds it takes to text, scan a message or have a conversation on a cell phone while driving was relatively harmless. After all, I’m an experienced driver. I was capable of multitasking. I felt I was doing pretty well by limiting where and when I used my cell phone while driving.
After I read the National Safety Council (NSA) research on the hazards of a distracted brain, that all changed.
These were the top three shockers from the report:
Multitasking is a myth. Human brains do not perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain switches between one task and another. Brains can do this very rapidly which leads us to erroneously believe we are doing two tasks at the same time.
The brain not only juggles tasks, it juggles focus and attention. When people attempt to perform two complex tasks at the same time such as driving and talking on a phone, the brain shifts its focus.
Reaction-time switching costs. Research studying the impact of talking on cell phones while driving has identified tangible and measurable slowed reaction times to potential hazards.
Since then, I’ve become very aware of others driving while using cell phones. They’re the ones whose speed is constantly changing, and they sometimes swerve like they’re under the influence. I can pick out these drivers about 90 percent of the time.
Those are just the talkers. People texting and driving are even scarier! All of these drivers increase the possibility of causing a severe injury to themselves and others and I don’t want to be one of them.
If this research was not enough to convince me to change my habits, the new 16-year-old driver in my household is. Setting a good example by staying off my phone is important.
So what can we do besides put policies in place? Be aware of the risk to yourself and others when you’re distracted. Put your phone on silent when driving, use a hands-free device or, if possible, just pull over off the road. If you’re really passionate, you can contact your elected officials and push them to put laws in place to ban texting and talking while driving.
I’ll be the first to admit this behavior can be hard to change. But it’s safe to say this change is a “good call.”
April is distracted driving awareness month. Join me and commit to safer driving habits - today and every day.
I’ve heard the saying a million times. “It’s not the house that makes the home. It’s the love and family inside.”
I truly believe it and live by this philosophy every day. But I’d be fooling myself if I said I didn’t like to dream of awesome things, like a pool for the family, or a bigger closet for my home.
Last year I discovered a girls’ dream: A digital, magazine-like website called Pinterest. It’s full of endless home ideas. Just like 25 million others who use it, Pinterest is a one-stop shop for discovering and organizing everything I love, and dream about.
I quickly had a dream home created virtually on my own Pinterest page. From pets to recipes, hairstyles to inspirational quotes, Pinterest is a popular place for dreamers to organize everything their hearts desire. Never has it been so easy to browse and collect photos of our dream dinners, family photos or even gardening ideas – all in one place.
These Pinterest dreams inspired American Family Insurance to partner with Better Homes and Gardens for a Dream Room Makeover sweepstakes. What better place to gather decorating and remodeling images for your very own makeover!
Whether it’s a single-family home, apartment or condo, many Pinterest users already create and pin their dream room ideas on boards dedicated to their homes. Asking them to pin images from Better Homes and Gardens for a chance to win $5,000 is a win-win scenario. They get beautiful ideas for their dream rooms, and American Family provides a chance to make those ideas come to life.
As community manager for American Family’s Pinterest page, I try to imagine what people living out their dreams in a dream home may want from an insurance company. Quite simply, we want to make sure their dreams are protected. So, we share timely safety tips for homeowners and renters on Pinterest.
For example, we’ve pinned information on protecting your home from spring flooding. Take it from someone who lived in a home damaged by water, these tips are worth pinning. As part of our Pinterest sweepstakes, sharing and pinning American Family’s home-related safety tips can earn you two additional entries. (Check out the official rules for details.)
Every day, Pinterest brings to life ideas to inspire my dreams. I love to think about what I would do in my home by browsing through these beautiful images. I also look for practical tips to make my home safe and secure, whether it’s a dream home I hope to have some day, or the one I’m living in today.
So, if you love to dream and have an ultimate dream home in mind, click here to pin your Dream Room Makeover on your Pinterest board. It could win you $5,000 toward making those dreams a reality.