Are You an Alcoholic? Twila Shares Her Story

What Does It Take to Stop Abusing Alcohol?

When Do You Finally Hit Rock Bottom?

Is It When You

  • Run away from home?
  • Destroy a 22-year marriage?
  • Compromise relationships with your children?
  • Are required to undergo random monitoring to keep your professional RN license?
  • Complete multiple treatments for alcohol dependency?
  • Are placed in a sober living house?
  • Receive numerous DUI arrests?
  • Spend nights in the county jail?
  • Nearly lose your RN career, or
  • Are placed on a 24/7 monitoring program for an entire year?

No.

It is only when you are desperate enough to surrender and seek help that a changed life starts.


Meet Twila

Twila is an alcoholic.

She went through each of these experiences and losses trying to control her drinking.

Early Onset Drinking

Twila grew up in a rural North Dakota farming family the middle child with two brothers. In high school she participated in basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics, volleyball and track, along with FFA-Future Farmers of America.

She was social outside of school. She started drinking at age 13.

Like many students in her area, she partied on the weekends, easily getting alcohol supplied by the older siblings of her friends. “We met on the section lines and gravel pits in the country. Sometimes I drank to the extreme.”

Her dream of going to college, getting married and having a family came true. And then it all fell apart as alcohol played a growing role in her life.

Alcohol was often a part of their married social life. “We entertained other couples with children so no one had to get a babysitter. We hung out with sports parents who wanted to have a few beers after the events. There were times I wasn’t done drinking when the event ended for the night.” But being a parent and having a job often curbed her drinking, when it needed to.

Fitting In

The effects of alcohol helped Twila feel like she was “fitting in and being a part of.” It helped her feel comfortable in her own skin. “I was never told growing up I wasn’t good enough or that I didn’t fit in. I told myself these things. I was always trying to be somewhere else, as someone else, doing something else.” Alcohol was her solution. It worked right up until it didn’t work.

Failed Self-Control

She spent many years trying to control her drinking so it would not go to the extremes. She felt guilt and shame by her behaviors around her drinking. “I knew I might have a problem when I drank to black outs or when my husband had to take care of me after I drank too much. We often had arguments about my drinking.”

She’d trick herself into thinking everything was okay because she still had things like a house, a car, a job, etc.

But she wasn’t.

Abusing alcohol cost her a lot, including her

  • Sanity
  • Peace
  • Purpose
  • And most importantly, her relationships with her children and her 22-year marriage
Twila’s greatest joy comes from seeing her children & grandchildren happy.

Rock Bottom

Twila’s desire to keep her RN job defined “rock bottom” for her. “I couldn’t compromise my professional career. It was the last thing I was holding on to. I’d already failed as a mother, wife and family member.” She often felt embarrassed for not showing up to work after spending nights in the county jail for DUIs. Losing her job was too much to bear.

Rehab to Sobriety

1st Time

Twila’s been to treatment for alcohol dependency twice-both at Heartview Foundation https://heartview.org/ in Bismarck, North Dakota. The first in January 2014. By this time, she’d run away from home, her marriage and her children. It was intensive outpatient treatment that lasted until March. She then attended an Aftercare program once a week. This was to last for five months.

She couldn’t stay sober.

Twila attended 12-Step Recovery meetings. She could string up a few months here and there. “I honestly didn’t want to stop drinking.” She wanted to be a ‘normal drinker,’ to control her drinking and to drink socially.

She was angry. “I was angry at the hurts I’d caused and at the life I’d destroyed for myself and others.”

2nd Time

Twila entered outpatient treatment again in June 2015 because her drinking had compromised her job. She took time off from work-the first time in 20 plus years. She still couldn’t stay sober.

Sober Living House

A third DUI in October 2015 resulted in Twila spending a couple months in a Bismarck women’s sober living house. “I couldn’t trust myself. Alone time was drinking time.” Consequences of that DUI required 24/7 monitoring for a year and random monitoring for her professional license. “The combination of these two monitoring programs slowed me down enough to do the honest inside work that 12-Step recovery asked me to do; as honestly as I was able to at that time.”

AA-Alcoholics Anonymous

https://www.recovery.org/alcoholics-anonymous/

AA is Twila’s solution. “AA has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin. In addition, I’ve learned to be grateful and humble, and to be of service every day, especially to the next suffering alcoholic.”

There are three innate traits all addicts need to recover, according to Twila.

  • Willful surrender to the disease and to a program of recovery
  • Attitude of gratitude
  • Humility without humiliation

Twila believes the #1 thing all those in recovery need is LOVE. “In AA, it is said that we will love you until you can love yourself.” Those still actively using need “a chance to suffer enough to seek a life in recovery” and those incarcerated need “a message of hope that life can look different. That they can press the reset button anytime.”

North Dakota Resources

Twila participates in her state’s efforts to reduce recidivism https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/recidivism and decrease incarceration for crimes involving addiction and mental health issues. Several of these organizations include:

F5

The F5 function key on a computer keyboard is the REFRESH button.

F5 https://www.f5project.org/ is a non-profit organization headquartered in Fargo, ND. It’s founder, Adam Martin, is a five-time felon turned entrepreneur.

The organization’s mission is to reduce recidivism and to erase the stigma of being a felon and a person with an addiction.

It preaches that one’s past does not have to define one’s future and that you are your own greatest asset. You can refresh!

Twila is actively involved in this growing organization that today has men’s houses in four cities. In addition, F5 has care coordinators and peer support specialists in eight anchor cities. And, holds jail/institution meetings at facilities in seven anchor cities. “Most of the people working with the F5 project have lived the experience either as a felon, as someone in recovery or as someone with a mental illness.”

Free Through Recovery

https://www.behavioralhealth.nd.gov/addiction/free-through-recovery

Free Through Recovery is a North Dakota community based behavioral health program designed to increase recovery support services to individuals involved with the criminal justice system who have behavioral health concerns.

Recovery Reinvented

In addition, it’s worth noting that North Dakota’s First Lady, Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, https://www.governor.nd.gov/first-lady-kathryn-burgum a person in long-term recovery, has made tremendous impact on recovery efforts in North Dakota through her addiction platform.

Recovery Reinvented https://recoveryreinvented.com/ is an ongoing series of innovative practices and initiatives to eliminate the shame and stigma of addiction in North Dakota. They seek to find solutions to help people affected by the disease of addiction with proven prevention, treatment and recovery approaches.

One Day at A Time

Every night before she goes to sleep, Twila says prayers for those needing healing and forgiveness. She awakens with a prayer of gratitude and asks God how she should show up for the day.

Sending Twila prayers for strength in her continued recovery and patience and understanding in her search for purpose and self-worth. Deep gratitude for all she does for those seeking to refresh their lives.

Keep it simple. Remain grateful.

Additional Resources

https://aa.org/ Alcoholics Anonymous

https://al-anon.org/ Loved Ones of Alcoholics

https://drugabuse.com/alcohol/ Alcohol Abuse

http://www.aahistory.com/prayer.html Serenity Prayer

https://www.alcohol.org/faq/am-i-an-alcoholic/ Am I an Alcoholic?

What Can You Do?

  • Leave questions & notes of encouragement for Twila below.
  • Donate to the organizations listed above.
  • Encourage loved ones to seek help.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • SHARE this post with others who will be inspired & encouraged by Twila’s story.

©February 2020. Linda Leier Thomason All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission before using copy or images from this site. Images are available for purchase.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

The Life of Jewelry Designer Lucy Lowe

Meet Jewelry Designer, Lucy Lowe

Photo Credit: Meg Simpson

Lucy Lowe is a woman who welds and measures millimeters by eye. Commanding skills in a jewelry design studio.

Officially she’s a goldsmith and jewelry designer.

What inspires this former North Dakotan, now living and designing in Traverse City, Michigan, are the magic of transformational materials and the beauty of creating an end product vastly different from the state in which it began.

She first saw this exciting transformative process as a 6-year-old, watching glass blowers creating goblets while she and her family were visiting Haleiwa, Hawaii.

This memorable experience set her on a jewelry design journey.

 Art of Being an Artist

Lucy says the challenge of being an artist is daring to begin. “I’ve heard stories of would-be artists and designers who never gave themselves a chance to start.” They feared the unlikelihood of achieving wild success or widespread recognition. However, “those who do undertake the path of art or design rarely seem to leave it because the powerful drive to create has fully awoken in them.”

Being an artist and designer requires a great amount of conviction and flexibility. “One has to be prompt in seizing opportunity to succeed. Unduly holding back out of caution or fear, simply slows progress and breeds doubt.”

She openly admits this is still a work-in-progress for her. She keeps working on reaching out of her comfort zones to new growth experiences.

 Work & Life Values

The daughter of retired educators, Lucy is thoughtful in her approach to both business and life. Integrity, honesty and kindness lead her.

“In order to live with integrity, I must know what I believe and value on a core level.”

Honesty requires her to be open and vulnerable. It helps establish true and lasting connections with others.

“Kindness is the best gift I can practice for myself and others.”

Like many, Lucy has found herself being unkind to herself by undervaluing her worth. “I have worked demanding jobs for pay registering below the poverty line in business with high earnings. I thought that was okay because I assumed I mustn’t be worth a fair living wage.”

Today, she realizes the value she brings and understands she’s worthy of fair compensation.

Giving Brings Joy

Lucy’s greatest joy comes from helping others. This could be by creating a piece of jewelry commemorating a meaningful experience, listening to a  friend transform pain into growth, or spending time with her niece while she learns letters.

She enjoys being in outdoor, natural settings and drinking coffee. And, she volunteers for fun community events and donates to causes that align with her values.

Especially close to her heart is the non-profit Women Who Weld. This organization offers training to underemployed women to aid them in entering a relatively stable and in-demand profession.

Influencers

Lucy is fortunate to have outstanding role models for every aspect of her life. Her paternal grandparents deeply influenced her life. They encouraged and enabled her to experience things they valued, like international travel, classical music and higher education.

She is inspired and moved by the words and message of the 14th Dalai Lama.

She loves the Danish silversmiths of the 1900s.

Her design role model is Art Smith. “His work was so playful, yet considered. It’s a beautiful characterful minimalism. It endlessly inspires me.”

Work/Life Balance

Lucy is a work/life balance advocate.

“We are somewhat programmed for a certain kind of success in this culture, which can mean high pay, recognition, and progressive promotions.” This may be the right path for some, but not all.

“I’ve noticed many instances of young professionals stepping away from this idea of success because they see the detrimental impact it has on their lives. Work/life balance is a personal formula that people can only determine for themselves.”

Personal

Helping balance Lucy’s life is her husband of seven years, Cory, a physical therapist. Cory is a creative-minded woodworker. He helps build and design displays and make studio modifications.

Lucy trusts him to offer honest, clear-sighted and logical feedback-each critically important as she grows more connected to the Traverse City community and explores greater opportunity.

Days Ahead

Currently, Lucy’s designing a really functional studio. She’s going to keep taking brave design and business leaps to set her heart racing. She’s learning to trust the process along the way.

Join her.

Visit a gallery displaying her work. Purchase a piece online. Buy direct from an artist, like Lucy.

Purchase Lucy’s Designs 

  • Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City, MI Link www.higherartgallery.com 
  • Gold and Jaye Jewelry in Traverse City, MI www.facebook.com/goldandjaye
  • Purloin Studio Purloin Studio in Menomonee Falls, WI. https://purloinstudio.com/
  • Pieces can also be purchased at http://squareup.com/store/lucylowejewelry
  • Instagram @lucylowejewelry. Instagram link.

SHARE this post.

Let’s spread the word about Lucy’s talent and art pieces available for purchase.

©Copyright. July 2018. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form .

Dr. Havidich on the Life & Practice of Successful Medicine

Introducing Dr. Havidich

Jeana, as she likes to be called, is one of the most well-rounded professionals one will ever meet. She’s a brilliant,  20-year practicing anesthesiologist and researcher. An outstanding chef and world traveler. She’s a community servant. A history buff who explores archeological sites. Secretly, she dances waltzes to big band music. She lives her life to be remembered as one who positively impacted others. She has. She continues to. Here’s how.

Principled Life

Jeana values friendship and time with those she cares about most. She gets boundless joy spending time with family and friends, particularly when they’re having a great dinner filled with laughter and cheer.
She understands her many achievements came with the help of her husband of twenty years, Dr. Mark Herrin, and her family and friends. “Although my life has been a fantastic journey, it’s been challenging at times.” Their love and support have kept Jeana grounded during the most difficult times. So have the principles guiding her life.

Honesty and Integrity: These are the traits she values the most. No matter what mistakes one makes in life, individuals who strive to incorporate honesty and integrity are respected by members of their community. Always trying to do the ‘right thing’ by others allows one to sleep soundly at night.

Service to Others: This has provided Jeana the greatest sense of satisfaction. Being able to help children and adults during a very difficult and stressful time in their lives is very challenging, but extremely rewarding.

Personal & Professional Growth: Growth is the key to happiness. Jeana continuously strives to improve herself to help others. She believes complacency is detrimental, on every level.

Choosing Medicine

Jeana feels fortunate to have found a profession that aligns with her values-something she considers key to a successful and fulfilling life. Medicine allows her to incorporate her principles of service, independence, and continuous professional and personal growth into her daily life.

“My choice to become an anesthesiologist was based on my desire to provide life-saving care to patients in critical situations. I thought I’d pursue a career as a Critical Care specialist in Anesthesia but soon realized my passion was providing perioperative care for children. I have not regretted my choice.

After 20 years of practice, “I still enjoy coming to work and providing this care.” She enjoys the daily interaction and learning from her patients, colleagues and students.

In fact, her most memorable moments as an anesthesiologist come from being outsmarted by children. For example, the six-year-old who locked himself into a bathroom so he didn’t have to have surgery. Or, the three-year-old who showed up for surgery and promptly went behind the nurses’ station and ate a nurse’s lunch, prompting an immediate cancellation of his procedure.

She’s humbled by the many patients who’ve survived against all odds-patients with tremendous resilience.

Dr. Havidich at Dartmouth

Jeana is a board certified Pediatric Anesthesiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. She was awarded a scholarship from The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice (TDI). She spends 75% of her time as a clinician, 20% researching and 5% lecturing/teaching.

Her current research focuses include health services research, quality and safety initiatives and the science of health care delivery.

Her latest research publication illustrated that patients born prematurely have a higher incidence of perioperative complications that last until adulthood. This research will enable anesthesiologists to prepare for the possibility of perioperative complications. “By understanding when and why complications occur, anesthesiologists can develop plans to minimize risk to patients.”

Jeana’s excited about an upcoming research project that looks at cancer development in patients exposed to opioids. Currently she is seeking government funding for this research.

Since the first rule of medicine is DO NO HARM, she is continually identifying those areas and processes to improve anesthesiology practices. “There is nothing more devastating than to watch a patient suffer or have an adverse event.” Her goal is to prevent that from ever happening.

7 Tips for Successful Career in Medicine

Educating and guiding young women into medicine is a passion for Jeana. While not claiming “to have all the answers,” she hopes younger professional women can learn from her experiences.

She believes the most important character traits leading to professional success are strong leadership and communication. “Fortunately, life-threatening situations are rare. However, those who handle these situations well by remaining calm and focused are most respected.

Persistence is also key to success. “As one moves up the ladder, competition is tougher. It’s not going to be easy. There are failures and disappointments along the way. Persistence pays off.”

Other tips for a successful career in medicine include:

1. Excel as a Clinician. Physicians respect other physicians who are hard-working, knowledgeable and provide high quality, safe, and compassionate medical care to their patients. This is medicine’s primary mission – “and you must do it to the best of your abilities. If you are not perceived as a dedicated, successful clinician, you will not have respect from others.”

2. Pursue Your Passion. Engage in the area in medicine that energizes you. Your specialty will find you–not the other way around. The amount of time and energy required to be successful in this field outweighs any financial gain. Circumstances change–and so do lifestyles and financial compensation. Be dedicated and passionate about your work.

3. Cultivate Strong Communication Skills. When the American Board of Anesthesiology first published core competencies that focused on communication and professionalism, Jeana was somewhat perplexed. After thoughtful consideration, she realized that mastering these skills ensures success for both the physician and the profession. Doctors work in a highly complex, fragmented medical system and effective communication with patients and colleagues is necessary to provide high quality, safe medical care.

4. Become Resilient. Doctors also work in a high risk, high stakes profession. They work long hours in a stressful environment. Patient lives are on the line and unfortunately things don’t always work out. How one addresses adversity in their personal and professional lives impacts their ability to care for themselves and others. Flexibility and adaptability are essential components as well. She recommends developing and cultivating these skills early in one’s career.

5. Get a Sense of Humor. It will be needed. Although practicing medicine is one of the greatest professions in the world, it is also fraught with frustrations. Therefore, one must develop a strong sense of humor in order to go about their day. The great thing about working with kids is that they provide a unique perspective that enables laughter. Try to take it in stride. Remember what’s really important.

6. Embrace Failure. Learn from it and move on. One of the most difficult lessons Jeana has learned over the years is how to deal with failure. “We are not perfect, and we will make career mistakes along the way.” While dedication and persistence are important characteristics to achieve success, it is also important to recognize when they are detrimental to one’s career. The important thing is to learn from failure and move on. The past cannot be changed. One can only learn from it. “In many respects, my biggest failures have led to my greatest successes. Correcting real or perceived deficiencies through determination and persistence have enabled me to achieve my goals. I’d tell my younger self not to fear failure but instead learn from it and move on. Take chances.”

7. Appreciate Life. It’s Too Short of an Adventure. Medicine constantly reminds Jeana that life is both extremely fragile and resilient at the same time. She watches patients endure unspeakable hardships and yet emerge with new-found hope and strength. “This always amazes me.” It’s also reminds her that it’s important to cherish every minute and to strive to reach one’s full potential. “Life is a gift, but often it seems too short.”

Work/Life Balance

Jeana reports that recently there has been a lot of attention given to physician burnout. “Medical professionals simply cannot provide care for others if they are not well themselves.” Maintaining a work/life balance can be a struggle. But, it is necessary to achieve personal and professional goals.

Work/life balance ratio will change over time. Career opportunities, family obligations, economic circumstances and practice changes impact the right balance. “It’s important to recognize signs of burnout early and make changes before serious issues in relationships or one’s career occur.”

Separate but Together

Drs. Jeana and Mark have lived in different states for a number of years due to professional opportunities. To some, this distance can be distressing. To them, it’s strengthened their relationship. “We designate protected time each day and throughout the year for each other.” They focus on their relationship when together and on their work and outside interests when apart. They understand the temporary nature of this status and have consciously decided to “make it work” with the support of colleagues, family and friends.

Having the right perspective matters. They understand other couples are less fortunate than they are, particularly those military families with overseas deployments.

Giving Back

Jeana subscribes to the belief that community service and engagement are key factors for resiliency and achieving happiness. Therefore, one of Jeana’s greatest personal satisfactions comes from “giving back” to both her profession and her community.

To Her Profession
She is grateful for the physician scientists and educators that have moved her profession forward. Advances in patient safety, technology, and education have decreased perioperative mortality over the past several decades. In return, Jeana has volunteered time at the local, state, and national levels with the hope of contributing back to her profession. Participating in national organizations such as the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF), serving on State Appointed Task Forces, and lecturing at local schools and community centers have enriched her professional life.

To Her Community
The hard-working, blue-collar Croatian-American community in Jeana’s Pennsylvania hometown raised money for children of Croatian heritage to further their education. These scholarship funds greatly benefited Jeana in achieving her career goals. In return, she has been working with the Association of Croatian American Professionals to develop a birthright “Domovina” scholarship program and a national Medical Tourism program in Croatia. “I hope to repay the Croatian American community by contributing to the development of these programs.”

Tips from Dr. Jeana for Patients

Surgical Patients Should Ask Anesthesiologists These:

Anesthesiologists have developed protocols and screening tools to identify medically complex patients who may be at risk for perioperative complications. If identified as such a patient, Jeana advises you to ask your anesthesiologist:

1. Based on my surgical procedure and medical history, what are my major risk factors for perioperative complications and what we can we do to decrease that risk?

2. What resources are available should an unexpected emergency occur? For instance, is there a blood bank readily available in the event I would need blood? Are there appropriate emergency equipment and personnel able to provide care in the event of an emergency?

3. What should I expect after surgery? Are there other means of controlling pain in addition to narcotics?

3 Skills Every Great Doctor Must Have

“Over time, I have found patients gravitate to physicians based on whether or not they approve of their personality.” Some physicians are scientific and matter of fact. And, some patients prefer this style over what others may refer to as a more compassionate physician. Jeana thinks the important thing is to find the right fit for you as a patient. “Ask for an interview or schedule an appointment to see if the physician is a good fit for you.”
Other things to consider in choosing a physician:

Solid Communication Skills. This is important not only for the patient but also the medical team. In today’s world of advanced technology, doctors are using web-based programs to communicate with patients.

Great Technical Skills in the procedural area. Investigate their outcomes data, although it might be hard to find. “It’s easier to find out more about a car you’re purchasing than who will provide your medical care.” Get a second opinion and ask for patient references and interview them.

Consistent Follow-Up Skills. Find a physician who follows up with their patients both personally (communication skill) and with processes like lab tests, x-rays, etc.

What’s Next for Anesthesiologist Dr. Jeana?

She’d like to continue practicing pediatric anesthesia and pursuing academic interests like:
• Research on health services-analyzing outcomes and quality using large databases.
• Research on the science of health care delivery systems
• Monitoring the growth of the Medical Tourism industry

As a researcher and practitioner, she’d like to see the development of regeneration of tissue, especially neural tissue. For instance, enhancing the growth rate of functional neural cells, one could theoretically make a quadriplegic patient walk again. Regenerating hepatic cells could eliminate the need for liver transplants. Generating neurons that produce hormones could cure diseases like Parkinson’s.

As an academician, she’d like to see expansion of individualized/targeted medical therapies tailored to a patient’s genetic makeup. This allows physicians to find the right drug for each patient, based on their genetic makeup. (This already exists for certain types of cancer and genetic diseases.)

Jeana wants the medical profession to discuss the cost of getting a medical degree and offer solutions. “It’s expensive and not reimbursed.”  She’d like to see the practice of ‘simulation’ to advance patient safety.

On a personal level, she wants to explore more of the world as a traveler with husband, Mark.

Jeana is an endless crusader for her profession and her own personal and professional development. She is a blessing to her family and circle of friends. Knowing her makes each of them better.

Here’s wishing anesthesiologist, Dr. Jeana Havidich,  many more years of practicing medicine, researching and developing and training new practitioners.

Do you have a question you’d like to ask Dr. Jeana or a recommended travel location for her? Share below.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

©Copyright. February 2018. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved.

Why Having Cancer Can Be a Positive Thing

Cancer is Hard & Scary. It Can Also be Amazing

Two 57-year-old female professionals meet for the first time at a sushi bar in Omaha, Nebraska. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. It’s not. Kathy and Terry quickly learned they shared triple negative breast cancer.

At a patio table in the late day’s sunshine, they tossed medical jargon around like others discuss politics or sports. They laughed while sharing baldness tales. They empathized with one another while listening to how cancer affects loved ones more than themselves.

Repeatedly, they blasted the negativity of cancer information. Neither ever found a book or article that was “positive about what an amazing journey cancer can be if one keeps the right attitude.”

Despite this, these women stayed focused on the positive aspects of cancer during and after treatment.

I marvel at their strength, frankness and sense of humor. Each will inspire you, or a loved one facing a cancer diagnosis.

If someone you know or love is facing cancer, SHARE this story with them. Even if you don’t have a cancer diagnosis, these women and their positive approach to life are inspirational.

Meet the fantastic Kathy & Terry

Kathy Bressler

Kathy and Mike, her husband of 35 years, recently moved to Omaha from the Pacific Northwest. She’s the Senior VP, Chief Operating Officer for CHI Health. Their two married sons, a daughter and four grandchildren remain there. Her general health was “amazing” before her 2015 cancer diagnosis. Today she still describes it as “awesome.”

She should know. Kathy has both a masters and a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Family History

Kathy’s mother died from her second breast cancer at age 61. Her grandmother died from the same when Kathy’s mom was just 9 years old. This strong family history had Kathy doing monthly breast self-exams at a young age and starting mammograms at age 35. In 2002 she was genetically tested and was negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, I was genetically tested again for all of the genes known, and I was negative for all of them, again.”

Hearing You Have Cancer

“I had a very hot, sharp pain in my right breast on November 29, 2015. My husband urged me to be seen. So, I had diagnostics the next day.” Kathy’s general surgeon delivered the cancer diagnosis to her. “Hearing it is a surreal out-of-body feeling. I was probably less scared than my family and friends because I had so many things I had to do.” Her surgeon didn’t give her any prognosis. Instead, they got to work and jointly planned action steps “to take care of business. I was sad and scared for my family, more than anything.”

Bilateral Mastectomy

Kathy had both breasts removed 11 days after diagnosis. The tumor was so close to the surface that the circulation in her right breast was compromised. She spent six weeks in a hyperbaric chamber. Doing this five days a week, seven hours a day healed her.

In early February 2016 she started 22 weeks of chemotherapy and ended five weeks of radiation therapy in August 2016. She had reconstructive surgery to remove spacers and insert implants in April 2017.

A month later she contracted an infection behind the right-side implant and was hospitalized for five days on IV antibiotics. She also took oral antibiotics for another six weeks.

Today, she’s infection free and feeling “awesome.” She has oncologist appointments once every quarter. “She checks labs for abnormalities and any symptoms that might indicate a recurrence. Recurrence is my greatest fear.”

Head Shaving Party

Kathy’s family, friends and caregivers surrounded her with love and comfort upon hearing her diagnosis. Each continues to check in regularly. As one would expect, when hearing the diagnosis, they had the normal emotions of sadness, thoughtfulness and support.

They drove her to appointments and offered to help in other ways. “I tried hard to stay independent. It was nice to be able to let loved ones do something.” It made them feel part of her journey.

“I’d urge family members to learn about the diagnosis, don’t baby the patient.” Rather she’d encourage them to exercise daily and stay connected socially. She did both.

She’s a hot yoga fanatic. She did it every single day throughout treatment. “The people there were with me every day. I couldn’t have asked for more love and kindness.”

Kathy hosted a head shaving party for 53 people. “It was amazing to watch the emotion in the room. I was doing great. I know it was hard for everyone. It was a very special evening. Being bald was amazing and I love that.”

Gold Star

Hopefully any cancer patient has a list of those who provided comfort through treatment. Kathy does. Husband Mike was “positive and encouraging.” Her kids were amazing. Her daughter was like a nurse to her-hopping in the shower with her mom to ensure her safety when she was weak.

Her brother and sister-in-law and girlfriend, Jennifer, were rock solid in their support.

She’d award a gold star to her chemo nurse Krystal. Krystal took care of her every Monday for 22 weeks. “I fell madly in love with her. She could not have provided me more positive care.” Krystal became a good friend and a great teacher.

Blessed by Cancer Lessons

Kathy is an administrator in a large healthcare system. Her personal cancer journey has changed the way she leads.

It caused her to re-think about what their patients deserve.

She’s quickly irritated hearing stories about how other women were not taken care of in the way they should’ve been. She fully understands not everyone’s journey was amazing as hers was.

Today she:

  • Asks employers of cancer patients to be sensitive and let them keep working as able.
  • Tells oncologists to stay positive and encourage their patients to do the same.
  • Urges patients to accept the love and support of family, friends and caregivers.
  • Reaches out to newly diagnosed women.
  • Participates in a California study specific to triple negative breast cancer.
  • Serves on the Susan G. Komen Advisory Board.
  • Wishes for a world without breast cancer.
  • Feels beyond blessed to have experienced breast cancer. “I know it sounds odd but this diagnosis has changed my life for the better, in so many ways.”

Terry Owens

Terry, a recently retired Disability Management Director, was in excellent health when she learned she had breast cancer. Equally annoying was the fact that there was no family history of breast cancer.

“I was showering one July 2015 morning and felt a large lump in my left breast near the armpit. I called my gynecologist and therein began my cancer journey.” Several referrals and appointments later, she learned it had already become Stage 3. It wasn’t until after Labor Day 2015 she heard it was Triple Negative Cancer.

Self-Exams & Mammograms

A native of Northeast Arkansas with a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, Terry is a mother of two adult children and grandmother to a 17-month-old. Baby Lyla is expected in December 2017.

She learned to perform breast self-exams at the Baptist Health Breast Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“They have videos and sample breasts with lumps for patients to palpate.” This teaches women what a lump may feel like on her body. Terry admits she was not vigilant about performing monthly self-exams, but she did perform them every so often. She did have mammograms yearly.

Steps to Wellness

Terry’s initial screening (mammogram and ultrasound) was in Arkansas. “The technician returned to the room with a pale and sick look on her face. I knew it was cancer even though she couldn’t confirm it.” Terry was alone when the gynecologist called to share the results and initiate a plan.

She returned to Omaha where she lived and worked. Her primary care physician referred her to a breast surgeon who performed a biopsy and reported the triple negative diagnosis.

She started chemotherapy in early September and became terribly sick, losing 12 pounds along with her hair 16 days after starting. She felt extreme fatigue.

In February 2016, she had a lumpectomy and began radiation, which lasted two months. [Her lymph nodes weren’t removed. Instead her chest, breast and armpit were radiated.]

Follow Ups to Health

After completing radiation, Terry was seen every three months and had repeated mammograms.

Today she’s seen every six months by a breast surgeon, oncologist and oncology radiologist. Like Kathy, she’s also participating in a research study. Hers is for patients who choose not to remove lymph nodes.

She’s happy to report she’s clear and returning to health.

Faith & Comfort

As expected, when hearing her diagnosis, her children cried. They offered love and support throughout. “Most embraced the hope of recovery and survival.”

Terry has a deep faith in the Lord. “He provided my friends and family, as well as my church family, to minister to me and take care of me. Even though I lived alone, someone was with me every time I had chemotherapy.”

Her best friends visited, brought food and kept house. Her children came. “I had enough drugs in me from Friday treatments that I felt well enough to show friends and family around Omaha. Unfortunately, I was always sickest on Sundays-the day everyone left to go home or back to school and work.”

Simple Bit of Food Advice

In their wanting to help, many brought food Terry couldn’t eat. Unfortunately, she had to dispose of it and sometimes didn’t have a prepared meal as scheduled. For instance, she couldn’t tolerate onions and garlic. So, she’d recommend asking the patient or her caregiver about food tolerance before you drop food off for the patient. She doesn’t want someone’s thoughtful and kind gesture to go to waste.

Superstar Chemist

Terry singled out the chemist who mixed her chemo drugs as a superstar through her cancer journey. “He was fabulous in giving me all kinds of helpful tips on caring for myself and managing the nausea, constipation and fatigue.” He even put stickers on her papers and directions for her medication schedules. Simple touches go a long way.

More Information

  • Click on the green live links throughout this article.
  • Pink it Forward
  • Susan G. Komen
  • Breast Cancer Research Foundation
  • CHI Breast Cancer Support Group

7 Simple Ways to Help Someone with Cancer

  1. Treat them as normally as possible.
  2. Offer rides, meals (see above), chores, phone calling, etc.
  3. Plan an outing with flexibility in case patient doesn’t feel well.
  4. Keep your troubles to yourself. Your friend has cancer. Don’t ask her to fix your life at the moment too
  5. Stay positive. If patient is prayerful, pray with and for her.
  6. Stay in her life even if you feel like you don’t know what to do for her.
  7. Organize a scheduled support group around her. Schedule ride, food delivery, companionship, bathing support, etc.

SHARE this article. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

©Copyright. October 2017.  Linda Leier Thomason

All rights reserved.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below. Rights Reserved.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Smile Hides Russian Orphan Life

Meet Mara

Mara shares in the happiest times of her customer’s lives. She helps select engagement and wedding rings, anniversary bands and other special occasion jewelry. She’s a jewelry sales professional for Greenberg’s Jewelers  at Omaha’s Westroads Mall.

But, while she’s helping others celebrate their happy times, few know the life she’s lived. Meet the incredible Mara Alyona Palmquist.

Russian Orphanage & Kindness

Mara’s earliest years were spent in Kalyazin, Russia.

Her strongest Russian home memory is of boiling water for her brother’s bath. “It took so long to fill up the tub. I had to boil the water and then carry the pot back to the bathroom. By the time I got there, half of it was spilled. It stands out to me because he was all I had. I always looked out for him, even at that early age.”

In Russia

When she was five, the State removed Mara and her 3-year-old brother, Vanya, from her alcoholic parent’s home and placed them in a Russian orphanage. She’s never seen her parents since, but longs to return to see especially her dad, whom she’s recently learned is still alive.

Though life was tough, her fondest memory is of kindness at school, particularly from her first-grade teacher. It was not hard to identify orphans in school. They wore jean skirts and jackets. The students were asked to draw a picture of whatever they wanted. “Everyone got a pencil. The teacher gave me a pen. And, my classmate next to me gave me stickers for my picture. I’ll never forget their kindness.”

In 2001, at age 11, Mara’s life was again filled with kindness. She and Vanya came to Los Angeles, California through the Kidsave organization.

Summer Miracles®

The Summer Miracles ® program places older orphans, aged 11-14, who have little chance to be adopted in their own countries, with families in an orphan hosting program. Children, who are available for adoption, stay with host families for a 4-to-5-week summer visit. While in the USA, the kids learn about the culture, attend summer camp, and experience life in an American family. Host families work with Kidsave staff and volunteers to find the children adoptive families. [Nearly 200,000 orphans are currently growing up without families in Russian state institutions.] Visit the Kidsave website for more information and/or to host a child: https://www.kidsave.org/

Los Angeles to Branson, MO

Mara and Vanya were placed with a widow in Los Angles who wasn’t interested in adoption after the summer program ended. Instead, a Branson, Missouri family that was in California on vacation “got a random voice message on their hotel phone saying there were 2 kids about to be sent back to a Russian orphanage if not placed with a family.” The family shortened their vacation. The father remained in California with Mara and Vanya for a few days and then traveled with them to Missouri to meet the “rest of the family.”

Fitting into a Family of 11

The rest of Michelle and Andre’s family included 9 other children-7 of their own and another brother and sister adopted from a different orphanage. All of a sudden, Mara and Vanya were part of a group of 11. Adapting was difficult.

While she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her, Mara admits being adopted is not easy. It’s difficult to be part of a new family, knowing where to fit in the family, church and culture. “I had to learn how to be a daughter, an older sister, a younger sister. Religion was hard. Fitting in overall was challenging.” She sat in front of a mirror for hours each day practicing her English accent so she wouldn’t sound “funny.”

Mara feels extremely blessed and eternally grateful that her family opened their home to them because some of the kids they knew from the orphanage got sent back to Russia for behavioral issues. “It changed my life for the better. I have so many opportunities that I’d never have had in Russia. There, at age 16, you are put on the streets. Prostitution is so high for that reason.”

Guilt & Gratitude

Mara sometimes feels guilty for the life she has in the USA. “I’m living this beautiful life with so much, knowing my Russian family is still struggling  and I can’t help them at all.”

She understands many Americans have it worse than she ever did. “I grew up going to school, having food in my belly and dressing in clean clothes. I had a roof over my head.” Mara’s inspired by these basics: she calls them gifts. “God brought me here for a reason. I want to show him it was the right place for me and I won’t waste this opportunity to better myself.”

She never takes relationships and friendships for granted and cherishes life. She seeks opportunities to do something great and make someone smile.

Jewelry Sales

Mara achieves that goal every day she’s selling at Greenberg’s Jewelers. She finds it particularly rewarding to help nervous couples select a perfect piece of jewelry. She builds rapport, especially with “lookers,” easily finding out why they entered the store and then helping them. She’s a relationship builder with excellent listening skills. “Customers will just walk in to chat when they’re in the mall shopping. I love that. I enjoy hearing their stories about how they met, their first date, etc. It makes my work day all worth it.”

Circle of Life

Making her life all worth it is her adorable six-year-old son, Brody. “He has the purest heart and was the best birthday present ever. [Born six weeks early on Mara’s 21st birthday.] “Having a child of my own makes me understand God’s unconditional love for us.”

Mara works hard every day and hopes Brody is proud of “his mommy.” She does not want the life she has had for Brody. She’d like to be able to provide him everything she never had growing up. “I’m not talking about material things.” Instead, Mara wants to shower Brody with love and affection and kisses and tell him “he’s the best kid in the whole world.”

Growing up in a Russian orphanage was not easy. But Mara learned how to survive and how to blend in. Now, as a mother, she knows what she craved and never received in her younger years. Mara now provides that to her own son. And, when the time is right, she will share her early years with him, most likely with a joint trip to Russia.

My husband, Ken, and I had the remarkable experience of working with Mara when selecting a 25th wedding anniversary band in May 2017. She made us feel like newlyweds through the entire sales process.

Other than her outstanding sales skills and techniques, we were drawn to her as a person.  Behind her charisma and smile, we sensed a deeper story to her life. I thank her for the courage it took to recall memories of her Russian life and for sharing them with all of us.

Russian Trip: Funds Needed

Mara needs to raise funds to secure the required paperwork to plan a visit to Russia. If you’d like to help, please contact me by completing the form below. Can you contribute?

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

 

©Copyright. August 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shop Small Business Fashion Art

My Photography is Now Available as Fashion Art

A few months back I was contacted by a San Francisco, California based company, Vida. They asked to use my photography for a number of custom-made fashion items and accessories. By agreeing to this, I can now offer  followers, friends and family my photography on custom-made items. Today, accent pillows, tops, scarves, pocket squares, wraps, and totes are available for purchase at “Linda’s Store” on this website.

Vida often gives me discount codes and coupons to pass on to you. Watch for these on my Facebook page and on the “Linda’s Store” tab on this website. Note each one has an expiration date and time. Items are hand-made. Read the description to see expected delivery date. Sizes are also described on each item.

Shop Small Business

Remember, with a purchase you are not only supporting my small business but buying a custom-made piece of art. Know how deeply I appreciate your support of both-my photography and my small business.

Share a Photo of You

When you purchase, share a photo of you wearing your fashion or showing your tote or pillow. I’d love to see it and share it with others.

Here is a sample of photographs customers have shared to date. Let me add yours!

Remember, if you see a photo that you’d like made into a top, scarf, tote bag, square or oblong pillow, wrap, or pocket square, contact me. I have complete design control over the photographic images.

Enjoy “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison while shopping and looking at the photographs customers have shared.

 

Donna looking great in her cashmere Mt. Rainier modal scarf
Donna looking great in her Cashmere Mt. Rainier Modal Scarf

Diane's Beatrice Flowers Tote is perfect for a day of errands.
Diane’s Beatrice Flowers Tote is perfect for a day of errands.

Peach Rose Cashmere Modal looks stunning on Brenda.
Peach Rose Cashmere Modal Scarf looks stunning on Brenda.

kathy-collection
Kathy wearing her North Dakota Sky Modern Tee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonnie modeling her Coffee Cashmere Modal Scarf.
Bonnie modeling her Coffee Cashmere Modal Scarf

©Copyright November 2016 Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

Domestic Violence Happens to 1 in 4: You?

111

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 out of 4 women and 1 out of 7 men will experience intimate partner violence annually.

(One in Four Women) 1:00 minute

Being in an abusive relationship can be scary and confusing.  You may feel isolated, guilty and ashamed.

If you are being abused, please seek help. Call 911, the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799–SAFE (7233), a local Crisis Hotline or your church office.

There is HOPE. You do not need to remain in an abusive situation. Hear from women who have reclaimed their lives. You too can be someone who gets her life back. Reach out today.

It’s a Sign of Abuse if a Partner…

Courtesy USCCB Publishing Washington, D.C.

  • Calls names, insults and constantly criticizes or humiliates
  • Isolates her from family and friends
  • Monitors where she goes and how she spends her time
  • Controls finances, refuses to share money, or gives her an allowance
  • Threatens to have her deported or to report her to a welfare agency
  • Threatens to take her children away
  • Threatens to kill or hurt her, the children, other family members, or pets
  • Threatens her with a weapon
  • Destroys property, such as household furnishings
  • Pushes, slaps, hits, bites, kicks, or chokes her
  • Forces her to have sex or to perform sexual acts

(Warning Signs) 2:37 minutes

Make Your Safety & the Safety of Your Children a Priority

 No one has the right to hurt you or your children.

Did you know that 3-4 million children between the ages of 3-17 are at risk of exposure to domestic violence each year? U.S. government statistics say that 95% of domestic violence cases involve women victims of male partners. The children of these women often witness the domestic violence.

children_churchWhether or not children are physically abused, they often suffer emotional and psychological trauma from living in homes where their fathers abuse their mothers. Children whose mothers are abused are denied the kind of home life that fosters healthy development.

Children who grow up observing their mothers being abused, especially by their fathers, grow up with a role model of intimate relationships in which one person uses intimidation and violence over the other person to get their way.

Stop the cycle of abuse. Reach out for help. Call 911, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799–SAFE (7233).

Are you a victim of domestic violence?

  • Trust your instincts
  • Know it is not your fault
  • Don’t be afraid to call for help
  • Value your freedom to choose, learn and grow

Helpful Numbers to Call:

1.800.799. SAFE (7233) National Domestic Violence Hotline

 1.866.331.9474 National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline

 911

Share with anyone you suspect may be domestically abused. You may be saving a life.

©Copyright. October 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Beauty Queen Conquers Nashville Only to Suffer Loss

Georgia Bedwell portraitGeorgia Becker Bedwell has packed a lot of living into her life. The 1972 Miss North Dakota traveled the world, married twice, raised a son, lived and worked in Nashville, earned a college certificate, and moved back to North Dakota. Today she’s working full-time and learning to adjust to her life as a widow, something she’d rather not be doing.
Inspiring North Dakotan Musicians
Georgia, the oldest of seven children, was raised in a musical family in Napoleon where she was surrounded by the ever-present sounds of country music on her dad’s radio and stereo. Her high school music teacher, Gene Mosbrucker,  encouraged her to pursue her passion of music. Both saw music as a way for Georgia to fund a college education. When she learned pageants provided scholarships for college, she entered. She won the Miss Kidder County pageant and then Miss North Dakota, including the talent portion, singing the popular, “Rose Garden,” recorded by fellow North Dakotan Lynn Anderson. Like many North Dakotans, Georgia watched Strasburg’s Lawrence Welk on his Saturday night show where Lynn performed regularly. Lynn became Georgia’s inspiration.
georgia homesteadOne Song, Many Opportunities
Georgia’s memorable performances of “Rose Garden” opened many doors for her. After receiving a non-finalist talent scholarship at the Miss America pageant, Georgia joined the Miss America USO tour and was a part of the Miss America pageant production the following year. Tom Bryant, a fellow Napoleon High School graduate who worked at Nashville’s WSM (AM) radio, home of The Grand Old Opry-the world’s longest running radio program, shared a tape of Georgia’s performance, landing her an invitation to perform there in 1973. Shortly thereafter she moved to Nashville and began a career in country music.
Garth CMA Horizon AwardCountry Music Career Takes Off
Georgia worked in the country music show at Opryland USA where she met two other female vocalists who together later became Roy Clark’s backup singers. Besides working many television shows like the Tonight Show, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Dinah Shore and the Merv Griffin show, in 1976 the group accompanied Roy on a cultural exchange tour to the former Soviet Union. They also toured the entire USA and Canada. After leaving Roy, the group returned to Opryland USA with their own show called “Three of a Kind.” In addition, Georgia started singing on writer’s demos; one was released as a single record on an independent label, which led to a second single. She toured with her own show until 1983 when she took a job in record promotion at Capitol Records where she stayed for 14 years. There she experienced the music industry from the inside out.
Georgia helped launch the careers of, and brought home number one records for many artists including, but not limited to, Trace Adkins, Garth Brooks, and Tanya Tucker.
Georgia acknowledges that today’s music industry has changed. Success still depends on one’s own determination and being a songwriter still separates one apart from others. However, playlists are tighter and now consultants rather than markets pick music. Her favorite performers include icons Garth, Reba and George and the song she often sings to herself is one written by Rodney Crowell and originally recorded by Emmylou Harris, “Till I Gain Control Again.”

Her husband of 22 years, Byron L. Bedwell, III, played this song on his guitar while she sang. She misses that, and him.
Me, Trent & ByronLove Hurts
Georgia’s life partner, Byron, was diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer in February 2015 and died July 17, 2015. It’s her greatest heartache and one she’s learning to cope with today. She understands her life has been blessed and continues to be blessed. But, if she had a magic wand, she’d wish for Byron to return so they could grow old together. Like many who’ve lost a loved one, Georgia feels like a piece of her is missing and she’s working hard to figure out how to become a whole person again.

Next Chapter
Georgia recently finished college classes and earned a human resources certification she’s using at her Bismarck bank job. She knows it’s never too late to change “horses and find a new career.” She understands that all of us have the choice to be who we want to be and that it is up to us to make it happen. Georgia also serves on the Board of Directors for the Miss North Dakota Scholarship Organization as their talent coordinator. She continues to promote the pageant as a source of scholarship funds for young women.
She cites her greatest accomplishment as her wonderful son, Trent, whom she wishes she lived nearer to. Her greatest joy originates from sharing her heart and faith and from caring for others who may need her help. More than anything, she wishes to be remembered for that loving and giving heart. She longs for her parents to be with her for many years ahead and wishes she could thank her deceased Grandma Johanna Mitzel for teaching her the value of loving unconditionally.
verseMore than ever she’s living by her favorite verse “Walk by faith not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Still a beauty. Still a talent. Back in North Dakota. Georgia Becker Bedwell.
Leave your greetings for Georgia in the comment section below.

Share this with others who also were inspired by and admired this remarkably talented woman.

Miss North Dakota Becomes Miss America 2018

Georgia is on the Board of Directors and the Talent Coordinator for the Miss North Dakota organization. In September 2017, Cara Mund, Miss North Dakota was crowned Miss America 2018. Congratulations to all!

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

 

©Copyright. March 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

Farm Girl to Fortune 200 Leader

cyndy picCyndy retired from Aflac in 2015 after 24 years. She began her career as an associate and left as the Nebraska Market Director, having also served in district and regional leadership roles.

During this time she amassed numerous awards and recognition for her outstanding work, including three President Club qualifications and a nomination for the Amos Award. Her most treasured professional memory is meeting former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, but the wonderful memories and ongoing accomplishments of the coordinators and associates she recruited to Aflac are truly her greatest reward.

Cyndy’s journey from rural North Dakota (ND) to leadership within a Fortune 200 corporation provides an example for all that with hard work, sacrifice and determination, you can overcome obstacles and reach the goals you’ve set for yourself. You can start over and begin a new journey in life, at any age.

Here’s Cyndy’s story.

Rural Values

I was born and raised on an eastern North Dakota farm, which I contribute to my success. That foundation provided me with many attributes as well as challenges to overcome. My “I can do anything” attitude was encouraged by my parents who didn’t see gender as a defining reason to keep one from pursuing their dreams. I don’t know if I have done the best with work-life balance, but I can say I’ve always done the best  I could possibly do in placing my family first. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been sacrifices. There have been meetings and events where I wished I could’ve been at two places at once. I believe it is unrealistic to expect you can always be everywhere and do everything. You have to learn to prioritize what is the most important and also learn how to say no.

College Dropout

I was a rebel growing up and while the Vietnam War was just winding down when I was in junior high school, I believe that had a significant influence on my determination as well as my desire to think outside the box. College was intriguing for me as I knew it was my ticket off the farm, and at the age of 18 the farm was definitely NOT where I wanted to be. UND-formerly known as the Fighting Sioux-was where I enrolled and had my first true taste of independence without chaperones. What better place than Grand Forks, ND to experience life.
Well, what I learned was that while high school was relatively easy for me, college classes were a different story and, of course, to excel you really should show up from time to time!. After one semester I made the choice (along with some encouragement from Mom and Dad) to leave school and get a job.

Non-Traditional Jobs

I had no interest in pursuing what was considered, at that time, a typical “girls” job. Cummins Diesel in Fargo had an opening for an inventory control clerk and it sounded like something more to my liking. With my farm background I thought nothing of applying for the position and on December 31, 1975 I was offered my first real full-time job. Over the next 15 years I held several positions in the heavy-duty trucking industry. I was transferred to Cummins Diesel in Grand Forks and then promoted to Parts Manager there at the age of 19. Yes, it’s even hard for me to believe when I think back on those years. From Grand Forks I relocated to Valley City, my home town, got married, worked in the parts department at a Thomas Bus dealer as well as got my feet wet in the home fireplace and wood burning stove business. I still have part numbers in my brain and, when necessary, can recall how to measure for a triple wall insulated chimney for installing a fireplace. Some things just stick with you.

Divorce & Death

My parts department experience didn’t end in Valley City. My husband and I moved to Bismarck, where I was employed at a Freightliner Truck dealership. He drove truck and, yes, I tried that as well! Our marriage didn’t last and I had the painful experience of going through a divorce. While divorce is more common today, it wasn’t back in the 80’s. I share that experience, as well as his traumatic death by suicide, not for pity but for encouragement. I do believe that through challenge we become stronger and more determined to succeed.

A New Beginning

In 1990 I married a wonderful man with whom I’ve just celebrated 25 years of marriage. I won’t say wedded bliss, as every relationship has it’s challenges. We built a custom home the summer before our marriage and not even a year after our marriage I announced I was going to look for a different job. I knew I didn’t want to learn anything more about diesel engines, transmissions or brake shoes. I wanted a professional job where I could dress like a woman and even have my nails done, since my work uniform for the previous 15+  years was blue jeans. My Mother was thrilled as she always thought I should have a “girl” job.

A Career

Researching jobs in the newspapers, I found an ad for American Family Life Assurance Company from Columbus, Georgia (now known as Aflac). I had no idea what an insurance career involved but thought I should check it out. I interviewed with the regional manager and then was called for a second interview, which back then was done in the home. I was excited and inspired… and also scared to death… as was my husband. We had just built this beautiful home and now I wanted to quit my real “secure” job and do what? Sell insurance for commission only!! The thought that kept recurring in my head was “I can do this.. I have to try, or I will never know. I want to live my life without regret”.

Life Verse
I have to share my life verse….scripture
I kept this on my desk (the dashboard of my car) and recited it every time I would make that scary cold call in person or on the phone. Insurance was hard work-harder than anything I could’ve imagined. My customers didn’t come to me. I had to go to them. It wasn’t easy and the first year was the absolute toughest. Had it not been for the people who believed in me and mentored me, I wouldn’t have ever made it. Nor could I have done it without digging in and having the desire to learn it all. Of course you never will learn it all, but I feel you must have that deep desire and that passion to want to be successful. Not only was I learning, I was helping customers make important decisions that would help them in the future.

Who Will Succeed?

My success is not MY success. I had the great privilege of leading teams with the passion to WIN and to show others in the nation exactly what could be accomplished in small town USA.
I took this opportunity and ran with. I didn’t know until I got more involved what a great company Aflac was – and still is. Since 1991, I have interviewed and hired numerous sales associates for Aflac. I wouldn’t be able to tell you at the first interview who would or would not be successful, but I will tell you that I have honestly never seen anyone fail because of not having the resources or product to allow them to succeed. Seriously… who would have bet on me to succeed back then? Country girl, raised on a farm, high school diploma with some college credits.

Gratitude and Belief

I thank the Lord every day for giving me the faith and belief in myself to succeed. I recently turned 59 years old and have now retired from Aflac. How cool is that? Never underestimate your ability, your worth, your calling. Take that “Leap of Faith” and believe that YOU can do ALL things!

So, where you are raised, the barriers you’ve had to overcome, the failures you’ve had and the people who’ve tried to hold you back, do not determine your success. You do. Pure and simple. You are the creator of your own destiny. At any day, any moment…you can decide to change the course of your life. Is it today?

Share this post with anyone trying to discover her purpose and place in life or anyone wishing to explore a new path or career.

Everyone deserves a do-over or fresh start, at any age.

Have a question or comment for Cyndy, leave it below.

©Copyright. February 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

Navigating Decades of Depression & Anxiety

Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. (National Institute of Mental Health) More than 1 out of 20 Americans 12 years of age and older reported current depression in 2005–2006.(Pratt LA, Brody DJ. Depression in the United States household population, 2005–2006. NCHS Data Brief. 2008(7):1–8.)

Here One Brave Follower Shares Her Struggles With Anxiety & Depression. If you have a story you’d like to share, contact me. Linda

depChildhood Illness Shakes Family of 8
I am the youngest of six children raised by a RN mother and draftsman father. At age eight, I suddenly became ill with three debilitating autoimmune disorders: Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and Raynaud’s phenomenon. These diagnoses changed my life forever and disrupted our family dynamic. Today I know these factors are the root cause of my lifelong struggle with depression.
My mother was my lifeline and I developed an unnatural physical and emotional dependency on her to the detriment of my siblings. For example, my sister who is five years older than me had challenges with anxiety and demonstrated symptoms of hypochondria to get attention from our Mom. For many years, Mom and I left home every three months for three days at a time to get me non-traditional treatment at an osteopathic clinic. Thankfully I was able to keep up at school with the help of some amazing teachers.
I missed out on many events, both at school and at home. At family holiday gatherings, I was typically on the couch or in my room. I was spoiled and everyone knew it. We weren’t wealthy so soda pop and cookies were rare, but since I was underweight, my parents bought me any food I requested, hoping I’d eat it and gain weight. One of my brothers was observant enough to understand this and often asked me to request certain food for him. I did.
Because there were no identified treatments for my condition, I was left to battle the challenging symptoms and the accompanying barrage of viral and bacterial illnesses with the aid of my constant companion, my mother. Antibiotics worked for the bacterial infections, but I more frequently had viruses that couldn’t be treated. There were no pharmaceuticals at that time for my autoimmune conditions. There probably are today.
Junior High Challenges
I spent junior high with low self-esteem and a very small circle of friends because I’d become extremely self-conscious of my condition. While my health had improved by this time, my self-image was framed by the previous years of illness, residual health challenges and a telltale facial butterfly rash. I was isolated by the illnesses and only had friends when I wasn’t sick. I’d developed an unhealthy belief I was defective and unworthy. All of this was exacerbated by depression and anxiety challenges that I’ve since learned are associated with autoimmune disease. I was never able to physically participate in gym class activities from second grade forward and without participation I didn’t develop any skill and had physical limitations in my hands and elbows. I missed a lot of school, but kept up enough to get good grades. I was never diagnosed with depression because at this time depression and anxiety conditions were rarely discussed or treated, especially in children. It wasn’t until I was in college that a general practitioner treated me for anxiety. I was given medication I took when I felt I needed it. Even at this age, I continued to lean on my mother for support.
College Obsession for Perfection
In college I became obsessed with the one thing I thought I could control in my life – my grade point average (GPA). Achieving that meant I was good at something, but the resulting stress I placed on myself to get a 4.0 required my taking anti-anxiety medications. Unless I got 100% on all tests and papers, I felt I failed. I beat myself up for less than perfection. This causes depression. I studied a lot. I did date some, but studying and grades were my priorities and certainly there was no play before all studying was complete. I lived at home so I didn’t have the same social experiences that those who lived with other students had. I did start college in the dorms, but I had to work food service to pay my room and board. I had a full class schedule so I went to class and studied and tried to have fun, but I couldn’t handle it physically and got mononucleosis (mono) so I had to withdraw from school to recuperate. That was a real low in my life. I finally felt like I was gaining my independence and my health, once again, prevented me from doing so. I lived at home for the rest of my college career. I was very capable socially with adults, as I spent a lot of time with my parents and their friends. I didn’t do as well with people of my own age. I was unpracticed and self-conscious.
I was anxious and depressed all through college but not enough not to participate in life. I had goals and hope for my future. Good grades gave me the self-esteem to muster through and to enter graduate school.
Never Good Enough
Following graduate school, my measurement of self-worth shifted to achievement in my work and resulting job titles. However, there was never sufficient evidence to convince me I was good enough. The unfulfilled expectations of me resulted in heightened levels of anxiety and depression. At this point in my life I was married (and beginning to feel trapped in the marriage) and working at my first job. My depression led to hyperventilation. I didn’t know that was what was happening. It wasn’t like you see in movies. I couldn’t detect a breathing issue. I just felt like I was going to pass out. After being passed around to several doctors, I was sent to a neurologist, who diagnosed my depression. This is when I was put on an antidepressant that I took for many years. The number, shape and colors of the antidepressant medications changed over the many years to follow as hyperventilation and other symptoms of anxiety and depression escalated. Remember, talk therapy was not mainstream then either. In fact, I didn’t experience this until after my divorce.
Debilitating Hopelessness
A marriage, subsequent divorce, and later the death of my mother, and two reductions-in-force (job losses) resulted in a deepened state of hopelessness and heightened anxiety. My low point was after the second job loss. The first lay off was as bad as I thought it could get, but the second one exceeded the first. I didn’t have the energy or hope to go on. The depression and anxiety became debilitating. I couldn’t do anything but sleep, shake and cry. I ended up in a psychologist’s office and admitted I didn’t want to live. I wasn’t suicidal per se, but I simply had no hope for a future. She referred me to an inpatient depression program. It really didn’t help me. What I needed was a job. That’s the only way I could regain a semblance of a life. Somehow I could quit bouncing my leg and get myself together for interviews, and I did get a job that I really didn’t want because I didn’t want to move out-of-state. At this point I was on some pretty powerful medications, but I still wasn’t doing well emotionally. I was living in another city, feeling all alone and out-of-place. I was alive and going through the motions, but was not myself at all. New and more pills were prescribed with abysmal results, but I battled on…..barely.
Suicidal Co-Worker Saved Me
Miraculously, I was able to rejoin a previous employer and return to my home, but the anxiety and depression remained prominent. Because I was back in my home and in a familiar city, I was better emotionally but still struggling mightily to get through a work day. My biggest challenge was short-term memory issues caused by depression. With what I attribute to serendipity, I subsequently hired a vibrant young woman who later disclosed her past suicide attempt while taking antidepressants. Her mother, an RN, was desperate to find an effective alternative treatment. What she discovered was an amino acid protocol, the results of which literally save her daughter’s life.
Because of the honesty of my co-worker and the success I’d seen her have on the amino acid protocol, about 18 months ago; I made a successful transition from traditional antidepressants to amino acid treatment. While my results haven’t been as dramatic as hers, which I attribute to my auto-immune disease and the many accumulated years of depression and anxiety, I am functioning much better than I was while taking anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs, and without their many undesirable side-effects. Today I take no prescription anti-anxiety or depression drugs.
Gratitude and Hope
I feel grateful for finding a treatment that more effectively manages my depression and anxiety without the many unpleasant side effects of traditional drug therapy. I am exercising, traveling, following a healthy, gluten-free diet, and functioning better at work than I have since my second job loss.
Being open and honest about my struggles with depression is not easy. I chose to share my journey, hoping others who personally suffer, or are close to someone who suffers, from depression and anxiety will find hope.
I wish you well.

Resources for those needing more information.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

National Institute of Mental Health

National Institute on Aging

©Copyright. February 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.