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  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 or


Attention Metro Transit Passengers… by Michelle Shkolnick


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.


“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.


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?


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 ( 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.


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 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 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.

Dear Volunteer…Thank You From the American Cancer Society

This week marks National Volunteer Week.  The American Cancer Society staff in the Nebraska Region would like to tell you thanks for all you do in their own words…

“The key to our success rests in our volunteers – words cannot express how grateful I am to have worked with so many wonderful volunteers! It is a pleasure and privilege to work with them every day! Thank you for helping us create a world with more birthdays!”  Ashley Berndt, Community Manager-Development (Omaha)

“The volunteers from Northeast Nebraska are amazing!  Their investment to Relay For Life is invaluable.  They are making a difference every day by inspiring communities to work together to create a world with more birthdays.  It is an honor to work with such dedicated individuals.  Thank you for all you do.”  Stephanie Fritz, Community Manager-Development (O’Neill)

“I feel very privileged to work with my volunteer committee members on events like the Hope Gala in Lincoln, Hope in the Heartland Gala and the Passport to a Cure Golf Tournament in Omaha. Every volunteer dedicates their valuable time to make these events successful and without them, we wouldn’t be able to host such great community events. It is because of you, that we, the American Cancer Society, are able to support our mission of celebrating a world with more birthdays. Thank you all for your countless hours and hard work!”  Holly Goodrich, Community Manager-Distinguished Events (Omaha)

“Every day I work with volunteers who have been touched in some way by cancer. You would think from the outside that these people would be sad or bitter. But what I see is the opposite! They are passionate and work so hard for so many hours to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients they will never meet! Thank you to all of them!”  Sherry Knapp, Community Manager-Development (Lincoln)

“There are three kinds of people: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say “What happened?”  Thank you American Cancer Society Nebraska Volunteers for MAKING IT HAPPEN!”  Jill Koch, Community Manager-Health Initiatives (Kearney)

“The volunteers that commit their time to the American Cancer Society are some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met in my life. Because you give your time, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. Thank you for choosing to fight back with the American Cancer Society.”  Mike Lefler, Director of Communications (Lincoln)

“Over the last few years, Nebraska has achieved significant legislative victories. From making our state smoke free to allowing more affordable access to oral chemotherapy treatments, we are making a difference for the over 9,000 Nebraskans affected by cancer. We achieved these accomplishments through your hard work and dedication to the American Cancer Society. Thank you for being such great advocates and I look forward to continuing working with you to reach even greater heights that will benefit Nebraskans impacted by cancer.”  Matt Prokop, Grassroots Manager (Lincoln)

“Our volunteers continue to amaze me with their amount of energy, dedication, and passion for the American Cancer Society. I can’t thank each of you enough for all that you do in the fight against cancer. We are so lucky to have volunteers like you!”  Brittany Reiser, Community Manager-Development (Kearney)

“Thank you to all our volunteers of the American Cancer Society. Because of your amazing energy, dedication and hard work you are helping to create a world with more birthdays. You are the best!!”  Pam Roth, Administrative Assistant (Lincoln)

“Our American Cancer Society volunteers never cease to amaze me with their creativity and dedication. Each one takes on the fight in their own way but they come together as a 24-7-365 force that won’t be stopped until we no longer hear the word cancer.”  Stephanie Stephenson, Community Manager-Development (Omaha)

“As I approach my first Relay season on staff, I am grateful on a daily basis for the fantastic volunteers who have made learning easier and my transition enjoyable. Thank you for the warm welcome and the heart you bring to this mission.”  Jill Tetherow, Community Manager-Development (North Platte)

“I have seen, firsthand, the impact that a single volunteer can have on a patient’s life and it is incredible. The American Cancer Society’s volunteers are tireless in their efforts to bring hope and inspiration to our patients at every stage of their cancer journey. I feel so fortunate to work with volunteers who give so much and inspire so many.”  Kate Oelke Turner, Community Manager-Health Initiatives (Omaha)