In 2009, after spending five years in Phoenix (post-college), I left a full-time job to return to my hometown of Overland Park, KS (KC) so I could be closer to my family and friends. I had five years of "real world" experience in retail banking under my belt, and was already looking for a change in careers to work in my passion area of community relations. It was the height of the recession and most jobs were hard to find, let alone the purple unicorn I was chasing. To make ends meet, I went back to work at my dad’s plastics business, where I had worked many weekends and summers during high school and college to make some extra cash.
Later that year when the job market hadn’t rebounded like I had expected, I "took my talents down" to Dallas, TX (not South Beach like Lebron and definitely not the savings account like Lebron) and crashed with a bestie until I got on my feet. On the day that I had totally given up on my job search and resigned to the fact that I’d have to eat crow with my parents, I awoke from a catnap to an offer letter for a role I didn't expect to get. During the interview, I was told I wasn’t qualified for the position, even though I was sure I could do whatever it required. When the offer landed in my email box, I let out a sigh of relief, followed by an evil laugh when thinking about how I showed the interviewer, and then finally a skeptical scowl because even though I was sure I could do the job, I wasn’t completely sure what the job entailed.
Eight years later, I’m still with the same consulting firm (during the day) that I started with for that 60-90 day project (albeit an acquisition a few years ago and about five roles later). Not only have I learned the consulting business, I’ve also learned about regulatory compliance, project management, operations management, staffing and recruiting, and my passion for employee development and HR. I’ve learned about the sales process, relationship management, and having really hard, but necessary conversations. Even more, I’ve also met some of my dearest friends/Dallas family through this company, including the dude that interviewed me and thought I wasn't qualified, and found a tribe that I could totally be myself with. I couldn’t be more grateful and I definitely couldn’t have planned any of it better myself.
In late 2016, my life faced another unexpected turn when my mom began showing signs that we originally associated with dementia. (Thanks a lot, Dr. Google.) The memory loss, confusion, overall apathy, and significant loss of appetite and weight, came on suddenly, unexpected, and obviously unplanned. We had lost my dad’s dad to a six-year span of Alzheimer’s in the mid-90’s and to this day, none of us have fully recovered from that horrible disease, especially my dad. We were flooded with all of the flashbacks and all of the fear.
A week after my mom’s first doctor’s appointment, she was immediately admitted to the hospital after her MRI showed a brain tumor (the same thing that took my dad’s mom—the irony wasn’t lost on us) that needed to be addressed before she had seizures or worse, a stroke. In the 48 hours that followed, we switched hospitals and neurosurgeons and went from thinking my mom had a benign brain tumor to being pretty certain she had advanced stage lung cancer with metastatic brain tumors. Suddenly, all the fucking unexpected shit hit life’s proverbial fan.
The thing that amazed me so much about my mom was that even though shit was hitting the proverbial fan, she was able to keep her sense of humor and her quirkiness that makes her her. Right after we found out about the lung crap, she looked at each of us and said, “now don’t any of you start crying”, even though each of us was just a few moments away from a total breakdown. That evening she laughed with her brothers and sisters in her hospital room while my dad, sister, and I sat quietly in shock as we tried to process all the information we had received that day. Even though we didn't feel like yucking it up that night, we found great comfort in hearing my mom laugh and deliver her funny quips with her siblings, especially because it suddenly hit us that her laughter and jokester personality had been gone for quite a while, thanks to that pesky brain tumor.
Not only was she delivering stand up that night, my mom also wished every doctor that visited her “good luck” as they shook her hand to leave. Each one would shake their head and give a confused smile that non-verbally said "surely the patient in the hospital bed with a battle ahead of her (no pun intended) isn't giving me all of her luck." But yep, she was. And best of all, she had a special connection with her neurosurgeon (aptly named Dr. Buddy) because he was a straight shooter with a dry sense of humor who wore cowboy boots and only partially teased her about the cool hair design he’d leave her with his electric razor. (She fully trusted him with her brain, but was totally iffy about his hairdressing skills.)
The day before the totally peaceful (heavy sarcasm) 2016 Election, my mom underwent major brain surgery and she did. so. amazing. (And so did Dr. Buddy.) I KNEW she was a tough bird, but seeing her recovery, her incredibly high pain tolerance, her humor, and her patience; I was blown away. She gave her physical therapist a great nickname (Art the Fart), and got right back to teasing Dr. Buddy when he would come to check on her a couple of times a day. And even though she might’ve told him otherwise, I think she was pretty impressed with her new hairdo.
Around Christmas time that year, she went through a week of radiation and Sissy and prepared for her upcoming treatments of chemo that would take place every three weeks. (If you think for one second that we didn’t treat this like a family road-trip to the Ozarks, you’re sadly mistaken, my friend.) We stocked up on all the ginger accouterments (including so.many.tins.of ginger snaps from World Market that we’re STILL working on), vats of Purel, OTC medications, and "specialty teas and oils". We bought a new tote bag and stuffed it with a journal, inspirational cards, snacks, her iPad, decks of cards, throat lozenges, etc. A couple of days before T-day (treatment day, not Turkey Day/Thanksgiving), the only thing we realized was missing was a fun t-shirt to commemorate this new journey.
We furiously searched the interwebs for a t-shirt that matched her sense of humor and positive outlook of our new normal but instead found shirts that said “fuck cancer” and other aggressively toned apparel that were plastered with cause ribbons. While we weren't looking for a “I heart cancer” t-shirt, my mom didn’t want to wear her cancer on her shirt, she didn’t want to be seen as a patient, and she certainly didn't want to be seen as a victim. We joked that there should be shirts with messages that reflected the real side of cancer treatments like, “chemo made me do it” or “I’m just here for the medical marijuana”. We skipped the t-shirts for that leg of the journey, but a seed was planted in Stacey’s brain for changing the way we cheer each other through life’s unexpected moments.
In the few months following the planting of the seed, a few other serendipitous moments occurred that told me I needed to start Cheer For You. (Ya know, because working full-time, helping take care of my mom with stage IV lung cancer and splitting my time between my life in Dallas and my family in KC clearly wasn’t enough. Yes, I’m kind of a lunatic.)
Now, a year after this not-great-gift-giver officially launched CFY, we’ve helped hundreds of people cheer for themselves and their friends and family through life’s unexpected moments AND also helped support community organizations that also make a difference in our World. Organizations like The Cancer Research Institute, Saint Luke’s Cancer Institute, The University of Kansas Endowment Program (for Cancer Research), The American Brain Tumor Association, Noah’s Bandage Project, and The Young Adult Cancer Center of Pittsburgh.
We’ve obviously continued to cheer for our biggest cheerleader, my mom, who knocks our socks off on the regular with her humor, positive spirit, and overall response to immunotherapy treatment. (Not to mention her ability to outpace me in places like Nashville and Vegas because homegirl has no chill, and I, well, I must’ve gotten most all of the chill. Even though Sissy would probably disagree.)
We’ve cheered for our friend Steven who at 29 had major brain surgery and made a full recovery and then we walked to celebrate him in the Brain Tumor Walk in March with many of his friends and family. We’ve cheered for our friend Grant who stood up to bullies in the first few weeks of school last year, which in turn inspired his school to talk more about kindness, differences, and inclusion. We cheered for those displaced by Hurricane Harvey with generous donations from our awesome customers. We cheered for our friend Valerie who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive breast cancer and is now in remission after chemo and a few surgeries. And for our friend, Sawyer, who has the biggest heart of anyone we know, as he proudly wore his “kindness is my super power” cape in the 2017 Northeast Kansas Down Syndrome Buddy Walk. We’ve made capes for little warriors facing cancer treatment and their siblings, so they could have an escape of the cancer world for even just a moment—a moment that felt like Christmas morning. We’ve helped a family preserve the legacy of their beloved Joe, who passed unexpectedly after a traffic accident and wants to be buried among the stars in space. And we’ve collaborated with childhood friends to shower another friend with all the cheer who’s now going through cancer treatments while also raising three young boys under the age of six to be kind human beings.
Obviously, this life is nothing like I would’ve ever expected or planned, but I firmly believe there’s no way it could be any better than it is today. Yes, everything happens for a reason, but I’m so tired of that cliché. Instead, I’m going to start saying, “beautiful things happen in the unplanned and unexpected moments, especially when you have a good sense of humor, you don't take things too seriously, and you have people in your life who always wear cowboy boots--especially if they're also neurosurgeons."
Yes, cancer fucking sucks. Yes, losing your mom/dad/husband/wife/child/sister/brother/BFF/cousin/etc. fucking SUCCCCCKS. Yes, unemployment and not knowing what you wanna be when you grow up sucks. Yes, heartbreak and breakups suck. And of course, traumas and tragedies totally suckkkkk. But without these experiences, we would never know how to feel awe, connection, joy, or laughter. And while, yes, pain hurts, I can’t imagine how painful life would be without those magical moments.
I have no idea where this crazy life is going, but I know that my favorite things will come from the unexpected and unplanned moments. Thank you for joining me on this ride--I hope you enjoy the unplanned and unexpected as much as I do. And please, don't forget to treat it like a family road-trip to the Ozark's (which basically means don't forget the snacks or games).