The Butterfly Effect, by Michelle Shkolnick

For a long time, I continued my subscription to Newsweek magazine just because of one column written by a man with the gift of taking common and not-so-common happenings and turning them into great life lessons. I have never forgotten one particular issue in which the columnist wrote about “the butterfly effect.” At its core, the butterfly effect has to do with chaos theory and “is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place can result in large differences to a later state.” Simply put, the butterfly effect suggests that a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a tiny breeze that might ultimately change the course of a tornado or a hurricane on another continent.

Think about that…

Just one little butterfly flapping its wings…a small change in one corner of the world impacting weather patterns in another.

As we move full throttle into Relay season in Nebraska, I am reminded of how Relay started…one little butterfly flapping his wings.

The first Relay For Life in Tacoma, Washington, 1985. Dr. Gordon Klatt in center.

In 1985, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon, wanted to show support for his patients and raise money for his local American Cancer Society office. He walked and ran around a track in Tacoma, WA for more than 83 miles over a 24-hour period. He had over 300 folks come out and show their support. Friends paid $25 to walk/run with Dr. Klatt that night, and as a result, he raised over $27,000. The following year, 19 teams took part and they raised $33,000.

Relay For Life was born…because Dr. Klatt flapped his wings.

 I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2001. After my mastectomy, I underwent eight rounds of two different kinds of chemotherapy. This was followed by seven weeks of radiation, which was followed by five years of Tamoxifen, which was followed by five more years of Femara. Because of the precision of my treatment (and perhaps the flap of a butterfly’s wings somewhere in Moscow), I celebrated 11 years cancer free in March.

 My first Relay was the result of a “wing-flap” by my chemo nurses. About half way through my eight round protocol, one of them invited me out to this “neat little thing” they called Relay For Life that was happening the following day. I joined them on the track that warm night in June and my life has never been the same. The butterfly effect is rooted in the notion that small events can have large, widespread impacts. That one little wing-flap…the invitation to come out that night…has changed the course of my life forever.

 Think about this…

Dr. Gordy Klatt

…seemingly small things with large impacts…

Never doubt the difference WE are making in the fight against cancer. Since inception, Relay For Life has grown from one man walking a track in Tacoma, Washington to over 5,200 communities in the United States and over 20 countries across the globe. Relay has raised over $4.5 BILLION to fight cancer through research, education, advocacy and services. As a result, cancer death rates have decreased by 23% in men and 15% in women since the early 1990’s. In the last two decades, this means that more than a MILLION cancer deaths have been avoided and today, there are over 12 MILLION survivors…one of whom might be standing next to you in the grocery store check-out line or sitting next to you at your kid’s piano recital.

 …not bad for one little butterfly, on a track in Tacoma, Washington 27 years ago…

 …and not bad for all of us flapping our wings hoping to change the course of cancer in every corner of the world.

 Personal note: Earlier this year, Dr. Klatt was diagnosed with stomach cancer. As he wages a very personal battle with cancer, please keep our butterfly in your thoughts and prayers.

by Michelle Shkolnick – 2012 Hero of Hope

This is the third post of Michelle Shkolnick’s  series as a contributor for the ACSNebraska.org site.  Shkolnick, who is an American Cancer Society Relay For Life Hero of Hope in 2012 will share her captivating writing ability with ACSNebraska readers every other week in May and June.  She will talk about her cancer journey, the American Cancer Society, Relay For Life, survivorship and the people she’s met along the way.  Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and began Relaying in Omaha that summer.  This year, she travels across Nebraska talking to fellow Relayers and inspiring people to help the American Cancer Society make a difference by saving lives.  Please check back with ACSNebraska.org or subscribe to the site because you won’t want to miss a word of Michelle’s stories.  Her next story is scheduled to be posted on Tuesday, June 19.

Omaha’s Inaugural Hope in the Heartland Gala to Benefit American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society is excited to announce that its inaugural Hope in the Heartland Gala will take place on Friday, July 27, 2012 at Stinson Park in Omaha’s historic Aksarben area.  Guests will have the opportunity to experience and celebrate the history of Stinson Park at Aksarben Village with a night at the races.  The metro area’s community leaders can wear their best derby attire, hats are welcomed, sip on a mint julep, play fun midway games, and enjoy great entertainment to help make a difference in the lives of those facing a cancer diagnosis here in Omaha.

“We in the Omaha community have the unique opportunity to help the American Cancer Society save lives from cancer through support and involvement with the Hope in the Heartland Gala,” commented Bryan Slone, event chair for the 2012 gala.  “Come enjoy fabulous cuisine, great entertainment, fun midway games, live and silent auctions, and more, while we support our local chapter of the American Cancer Society and help them impact patients here in our community.” 

“Hope in the Heartland is truly about the Omaha community coming together to achieve one goal, the day when no one has to hear the words “You have cancer,” says Slone.  The programs and services the ACS provides to the community are vital to helping us celebrate a world with more birthdays.”

Doors will open at 6:30 pm for this one-of-a-kind event that will feature simulcast horse racing, a wine tasting, a horseshoe of roses and so much more.  A silent auction will begin the evening with a live auction starting at 8:30 pm. Guests will then be able to dance the night away with entertainment by local band, Finest Hour. 

The Hope in the Heartland Committee would like to thank our major sponsors thus far for making this fun-filled event possible: Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center, Travel & Transport, Union Pacific, CS & Marilyn Johnson, Bryan & Leslie Slone, Omaha World Herald, Bank of the West, ConAgra Foods & ConAgra Foods Foundation, Deloitte, First National Bank of Omaha, HDR, Inc., T.D. Ameritrade, Wells Fargo Bank, and Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

Tickets for the 2012 Hope in the Heartland Gala are $150 per person or $2,500 per table and can be purchased online at www.hopeintheheartlandomaha.org.  For more information, contact the American Cancer Society at 402-393-0764.

For more information about the Hope in the Heartland Gala and other American Cancer Society programs, call 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.hopeintheheartlandomaha.org or www.cancer.org.

Attention Metro Transit Passengers… by Michelle Shkolnick

“ATTENTION METRO TRANSIT PASSENGERS. THERE IS A DISABLED TRAIN DIRECTLY AHEAD OF US. WE WILL BE MOVING SHORTLY. WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE AND APOLOGIZE FOR THE SERVICE INTERRUPTION.”

I read this little blurb in a professional magazine I was reviewing last week for a work presentation. The author was using it as a metaphor to discuss interruptions at work and their impact on quality and productivity. My mind went instantly to cancer.

ATTENTION METRO TRANSIT PASSENGERS….

“BC” (before cancer) I rode the metaphorical train day in and day out and thought that cancer happened to other people. I am sure that there were people battling cancer on my train each day, but I really did not notice them, let alone ever really think much about what I could do to help them. After all, I was just a passenger on this train. Not the engineer or the dispatcher or the switch person. I was just a passenger. I didn’t have a job function here. I just rode the train day after day, assuming I would get to my destination as scheduled like I had hundreds of other times.

THERE IS A DISABLED TRAIN DIRECTLY AHEAD OF US….

At 12:15 pm the first Friday in March 2001, I heard the words, “You have cancer,” and I was no longer just a passenger on that train. The train on which I had been riding all this time was now the disabled train. It was a feeling like no other when the train came to a grinding halt that day. It sounded ferociously loud, then oddly quiet in the aftermath…quiet enough to hear my own heart beating rhythmically in my chest and my own lungs steadily breathing in and out…although I sometimes wonder how I managed to do that when all the air had just been sucked out of the room. In that instant, I was thrown into the roles of engineer and dispatcher and switch person.

I was stuck. Stuck in panic. Stuck in fear. Stuck in the prospect of my own mortality. How the hell do I get this train moving again?

WE WILL BE MOVING SHORTLY….

Less than eight hours after hearing those three dreaded words, I figured out a way to get that train moving. No one had given me any operating instructions, but as the engineer responsible for running the locomotive, it was my job to get things in motion. I did what I was so accustomed to doing…I went to the Internet…and I typed in “cancer.” And for reasons that still remain a mystery to me, I chose the American Cancer Society website (www.cancer.org) from amongst the MILLIONS of results that popped up in a fraction of a second. What I needed to get unstuck was right there in front of me…

On that web page, there was a place to click to learn about cancer. If the dispatcher’s job is defined as being the person who is responsible for moving trains over a territory, I had found what I needed. I selected breast cancer from the menu and began reading. I researched the different types of breast cancer and the various treatment options. I found a list of questions that I should ask my doctor and different resources for support in putting my life back together. That night, into the wee hours of the next morning, I got my train unstuck.

Over the days and weeks and months that followed, I ran the rail yard like any good switch person would, managing other crew members along my tracks to ensure we were doing all the right things to handle the situation. Surgery…scans…chemo…radiation…more scans…keeping everything on schedule. The dispatcher part of me was in constant communications with my medical crew, ensuring “occupancy on the tracks” as needed. The train navigated all turns as planned each and every time.

WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE AND APOLOGIZE FOR THE SERVICE INTERRUPTION…

Sometimes it sucked to be on the disabled train. In its wake were other trains that suffered collateral damage and I think it sucked worse to be on those trains. I think first and foremost of my parents and my sisters and my closest friends…their trains came to a grinding halt that day because of my disabled train. On that day in March, they all stopped being just passengers on their trains. They became stewards attending to this passenger…and cooks preparing my meals…and porters carrying my baggage and their own, including sometimes the emotional kind.

How can I ever really thank people for their patience during something like this? What kind of apology can I offer that would ever cover this kind of “service interruption?”

In 2012, over 1.6 MILLION new cases of cancer will be diagnosed. The good news is that 5-year cancer survival rates for “all cancers diagnosed between 2001 and 2007 is 67%, up from 49% in 1975-1977.” There are currently 12 MILLION survivors alive today, thanks in large part to the American Cancer Society. We ARE creating a world with LESS CANCER and MORE BIRTHDAYS!

I will never know what made me choose the American Cancer Society website that night. But I do know that I am eternally grateful for the information that I found there (and for the Relay family that I found three months later) that helped me get – and keep – my train unstuck.

Please know that the American Cancer Society provides valuable information, resources and HOPE if you or someone you love should ever hear the announcement: “ATTENTION METRO TRANSIT PASSENGERS…”

by Michelle Shkolnick – 2012 Hero of Hope

This is the second post of Michelle Shkolnick’s  series as a contributor for the ACSNebraska.org site.  Shkolnick, who is an American Cancer Society Relay For Life Hero of Hope in 2012 will share her captivating writing ability with ACSNebraska readers every other week in May and June.  She will talk about her cancer journey, the American Cancer Society, Relay For Life, survivorship and the people she’s met along the way.  Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and began Relaying in Omaha that summer.  This year, she travels across Nebraska talking to fellow Relayers and inspiring people to help the American Cancer Society make a difference by saving lives.  Please check back with ACSNebraska.org or subscribe to the site because you won’t want to miss a word of Michelle’s stories.  Her next story is scheduled to be posted on Tuesday, June 5.