The Cancer Color of October Is …

The Cancer Color of October is … not always PINK.

SONY DSC

It is October, and pink predominates pretty much everything because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important to me because I am the daughter of a survivor and have seen countless friends, acquaintances, and fellow humans (women and men) be diagnosed with this disease. Some are (blessedly) still alive and thriving; others have passed away. As a woman, I face a 1:8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in my life. Therefore, for selfish reasons research should be supported. However not all “pink” is effective “pink,” and there are many other causes out there of which we need to be aware and for which we need to take action.

When Pink Makes Me See Red

I am wearing a lot of pink this month, and having been a multiple-year captain at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, I am in full support of many efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer and fundraise toward support and research. Here in Tallahassee, October 2014 is fully in pink bloom, with many of our city’s leaders and brightest lights leading the way. However, it is important to know that not every product robed in pink does much good and to make well-educated purchasing decisions.

When Pink Has Gray Areas

It is also important to respect the connotations all that pink carries for people currently dealing with breast cancer, either for themselves or a relative. Sarah Thebarge writes eloquently of the evolution of her feelings about pink as a color representing breast cancer here.  She also wrote a superbly useful list of 31 Ways to Help a Friend Who Has Breast Cancer (visit it here) which goes beyond wearing pink.

But Paula You Said This Post Wasn’t Just About Breast Cancer!

It’s not. I want to encourage you to add some “blue” to your October observances (I know, now it’s feeling baby shower-ish up in here, isn’t it?). My friend and former coach, Jeff Kline, has stage 4 prostate cancer.

jeff running

Jeff Kline of PRS Fit

Jeff has devoted October to running across the United States with a goal of motivating men to get screened (his point is that if he had done a simple screening a few years ago, his cancer would have been caught at a time when treatment would have been simpler and the prognosis would have been much more hopeful). One of Jeff’s initial blogs about his diagnosis and decision to run cross country is here. Jeff and a team of supporters are running the Marine Corps Marathon on October 26, 2014, to raise funds for ZERO (an organization dedicated to ending prostate cancer).

M2EPC

In support, I will be participating in a virtual half marathon on Saturday, October 25, 2014. It occurred to me one day that the drive from my house to my favorite traffic light, The Optimism Light, is roughly half of a half marathon, so my route will either begin or end at the O.L. to symbolize optimism that men will commit to getting themselves screened so they can be around for their families and friends for a long, long time. (Early detection can involve a simple blood test. Read more about detection options here or visit this site to donate.)

Got it: PINK, BLUE, and … GRAY?

I have had this “pink and blue” post planned for weeks. One individual’s story presented itself to me via friends, though, and it is important (and time sensitive) to add it here. Andy Nichols is the brother-in-law of a friend (as she puts it “the brother of my heart.”). Andy has an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor, which is in the same family of brain tumors as the one my friend Dustin had. When I learned that Poplar Head Baptist Church is holding a 5K race in Blountstown on October 11 in Andy’s honor (to help with expenses not covered by insurance as well as raise awareness), and that his friends wanted help getting the word out and generating as much participation as possible, I knew in a heartbeat that I would be heading west that day. If you are here in North Florida, please consider coming over to Blountstown and participating in the race. You can register via this link.

Andy and his family chose the "I have hope" phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

Andy and his family chose the “I have hope” phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

If you are not able to participate in the 5K or mile Fun Run, but would like to show your support by purchasing a t-shirt, sponsoring the event, or making a donation, you can contact Tiffany Nichols at run4andy@gmail.com or Clint White at 850-643-8584.

So Many Causes … Where Do I Go From Here?

I wish I knew! I have only scratched the surface, with a bias toward the fact that it’s October, that my mom (pictured in this post with a pink bird of hope) is a breast cancer survivor, that Jeff is running across the country to encourage men to get screened for prostate cancer, and that Andy and his family need our support on October 11. My friend Mary Jane, a multiple myeloma survivor, is organizing a team for the NYC Half Marathon in March via Team in Training so you’ll be hearing about that, for sure. As to “where do I go from here?”

cancer colors

This graphic is from www.crochetforcancer.org.

In a sea of choices, the best recommendation I can make is the same one I would make if you were drowning in a literal sea: clear your head, get your bearings, look for the surface, orient yourself toward the shore, and take action. Your action may be donating funds, running in a race, running for a cause (hello, Charity Miles and Stand Up 2 Cancer!), or simply telling someone who has cancer “I am here for you” or asking their family what you can do to help.

Whatever you choose, don’t for a minute let yourself believe that your contribution is too small or won’t matter.

My mom, Jeff, and Andy would surely feel differently …

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Loose Change

I am very excited to have Robin Dunn Bryant share a guest post tonight.  In all honesty, I need to let you readers know that I invited Robin to share her experience, partially so that I can piggyback on her experience with a comment of my own.  In my mind, I had always thought that when I wrote a post about debt management and financial struggles, it would be a celebratory post explaining how our family had conquered the debt monster and put money issues far behind us. 

Although Robin and I worked both worked “for” Healthy Kids, me as an HK employee and her as the trainer for our Third Party Administrator, I really did not know anything about her personally until she and her family participated in the We Live FIT (Financially Independent Today) Challenge sponsored by the Florida Commerce Credit Union.  When you participate in the We Live FIT challenge, your life as a family is literally an open book: your savings, your credit score, your debt ratio.  You name it, the community knows it.  AND your own family smiles down at you from a huge billboard on Capital Circle. 

Without further ado, and with a huge “thank you” to Robin and her family, here’s Robin’s story and then I dip my tiniest of courage toes into starting to tell ours.

Robin: 

The Ultimate Exposure aka the We Live FIT challenge

In April my family and I embarked on a road to financial fitness through a “reality show” challenge our credit union, Florida Commerce, was holding. The premise: nine families would work until the end of the year to increase savings, decrease debt, and increase their credit scores. They would work in conjunction with a coach from the credit union and the winning family would receive $10,000. This was the second year of the challenge and since we’d missed the deadline the first time around, we made sure that we got our information in early this time.



After a review of our application and an in-person/on camera interview, our family was one of the nine chosen to enter the competition. We were thrilled, of course, because we’d been taking a financial beating for a few years.


Let me backtrack a bit.


Before we moved to Tallahassee in 2006 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Our plan to move to a cheaper location (we were coming from DC) so that we could cut our expenses and live a life with a lowered stress level went right out the window. My really lucrative work from home job, that before cancer could pay all of our living expenses, became part of a high wire balancing act while we tried to pay an expensive COBRA bill and keep our household running. Then, to add insult to injury, my job bounced several of my paychecks, an action that sent us spiraling into the world of payday loans where we lived for several years.


Fast forward to the beginning of this year.


My DH and I had decided that this was the year that we were going to take control of our financial situation, so getting the call to be part of the competition was so timely. What we weren’t expecting was all of the emotional upheaval that comes with 1) finally getting real about what we were (and weren’t) doing right with our finances and 2) pulling back the curtain of our completely wrecked financial situation for everyone to see. I honestly can’t say which part was hardest for us. I do know the day the website was launched I kept looking at our numbers with a deep combination of pain and shame. We had over $160,000 in debt, $10 in savings, and both of our credit scores were under 500.


We got off to an aggressive start and our situation made an immediate turn for the better. We went through all of our bills and made changes that left us more money each month. We cut back our cable (getting rid of the set in our bedroom entirely), closed down our storage unit, and adjusted our W-4 withholdings so we would bring home more money on payday. Our ace in the hole was our friend Kristen, who is a credit report wizard. She went through them with us line by line and gave us specific marching orders. By June we’d decreased our debt by $1500, increased our combined credit score by 80 points and “passively” saved $628 dollars (by making lifestyle changes…we did lose a good bit to a repair bill for our car.) We really struggled with the community votes, but managed to make it into the second round.


Between June and September we kept up a good part of our momentum – the part that had us focusing on driving down our debt and raising our credit scores – but we were tripped up on other points of the challenge. The stress of the first elimination caused an almost total shut down after June. I couldn’t rouse the enthusiasm to blog or even shoot videos on our lil Flip camera. I was completely overwhelmed. Luckily we were able to keep our heads about ourselves and were able to keep our focus on what I saw as our “real” work: cleaning up our finances to make way to a more stable future for our family. We increased our savings by $2100, decreased our debt by over $20,000 (yes, you read that right) and saw our credit scores skyrocket. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t enough to counteract having the lowest amount of savings and community votes and we were eliminated.


So now our family is in the “savers bracket” competing with the other eliminated families for $1,000. I think we have a pretty good chance, but even if we don’t win that money, I know what we’ve received as a family is more valuable than any money. My husband said it best in one of his blog postings for the challenge: “We decided as a family that we would not deprive ourselves to win this challenge or be people we aren’t. We made small changes and saw the pay off. We made more small changes and saw more pay off. We got lucky and had some things fall into our lap. Overall, we are happy. Anyone who says staying happy is easy is lying. We choose to work at it relentlessly.”

Paula:

Once I realized that Robin and her family were participants in the We Live FIT challenge, it was important to me to get behind them, support them, and to, as I stated in my Facebook status during the most recent round of voting, “whip people up into a frenzy of voting.”  Why was it so important to me to do so?  Why do I feel so much solidarity with a family that looks unruffled on the outside while simultaneously being barely able to breathe due to not being able to get ahead of the debt monster?

Because I know what it’s like to live in a $400,000+ house and have to gather up loose change to make it through the end of the month.  I know what it feels like to not be able to breathe due to the stress.
Kudos to Robin and family for working so hard (and so publicly) to reclaim their financial fitness.  Robin added this quote, and it’s the perfect ending:
“The day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
-Anais Nin  

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.