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.


Lincoln Woman Honors Father by Fighting Cancer Through American Cancer Society Hope Gala

From the time her father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in March of 2004 through her father’s death five years later, Sara Jane Thomsen got to know firsthand the pain that cancer can bring to the friends and family of those who go through it.  She has seen the roller coaster ride of being diagnosed, being given a clean bill of health, being diagnosed with a new type of cancer, going into remission and having a reoccurrence.  Today, she is fighting back trying to make sure that no one else has to experience what she and her family went through by working with a one-of-a-kind event to benefit the American Cancer Society.

After his initial diagnosis, Loren “Butch” Schnittgrund had surgery to remove his esophagus.  Following the procedure, the doctors gave him a clean bill of health.  Even though doctors had told him that he probably wouldn’t be able to experience his love for running due to treatments and lack of energy, he went on to train and run the Lincoln Half Marathon.  In March of 2006, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and after rounds of radiation and chemo, the doctors again told him he was in remission.  In December of 2007, they found a spot on his lung.  They were told it was a reoccurrence of the esophageal cancer.

Sara had been living in California with her family and moved back to Nebraska with her two small boys while her husband finished his project in California to be with her Dad after his reoccurrence.  In 2008, Sara was pregnant with her third child and took her dad with her to her doctor appointments so he could see the ultrasounds and see his grandbaby. 

“My daughter was born in 2008 and we decided to name her Lauren after my dad’s name Loren,” said Thomsen.  “When he came up to the hospital to see her, he asked me if I had given his little granddaughter a name yet.  When I told him, I will never forget the look on his face.”

The rest of 2008 was up and down and in April of 2009 Butch took a turn for the worse.  On April 14th, Sara had written a card to her dad and decided to give it to him.

“In it I told him all of my feelings and love and respect and sadness.  I promised to keep his memory alive with my kids!  I promised they would never forget him.”

The next day, her dad slipped into unconsciousness and he passed away on April 19th.  That day marked one of the saddest moments in Sara’s life but it was also one of the best because she knew he was no longer in pain.  Her father’s journey through cancer is one that too many cancer patients face today and a journey the American Cancer Society is trying to eliminate by giving more people more birthdays.

“I chose to become involved with the American Cancer Society because of my story,” said Thomsen.  “I want to help fight back and help others facing cancer so that they don’t have to go through what my Dad and our family went through.”

This year, Sara will co-chair the Lincoln Hope Gala on March 24th at the Nebraska Champions Club in Lincoln.  Tickets for this one-of-a-kind event are $75 per person and can be purchased online at  VIP admission may be purchased for $125, while VIP tables are available for $1,000.  Corporate tables that include company recognition in the event program are also available for $1,250.

Nebraska Hotels Assist Cancer Patients Through American Cancer Society Guestroom Program

Several Nebraska lodging facilities are currently participating in the American Cancer Society guestroom program to provide free lodging for cancer patients traveling to certain Nebraska communities for life-saving treatments.

As costs rise for patients battling cancer, the American Cancer Society is hoping to ease the burden of those battling the disease by offering free lodging for patients traveling more than 100 miles roundtrip to and from their lifesaving cancer treatments.  The ACS guestroom program utilizes rooms from local hotels who generously donate lodging specifically for those in active cancer treatment.

Traveling hours to treatment sometimes leaves cancer patients with few options for completing their treatment schedules.  Many patients need daily or weekly treatments over a period of months and simply have no way to get there.  Although family and friends may be able to help, there are many times when they’re not available.  The guestroom program provides options for patients in this situation who are in need of treatment in communities across the state.

“Cancer patients have enough to worry about when they are going through treatment,” commented Mike Lefler, director of communications for the American Cancer Society.  “This is just one way the American Cancer Society is trying to assist those patients from both a cost and convenience standpoint.  Together with our wonderful hotel partners, we are able to make battling cancer just a little bit easier.”

To arrange lodging during cancer treatment, patients must contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 more than two weeks prior to the date(s) in which they will need lodging.  Room availability is not guaranteed and is based on participating hotel occupancy during desired dates.

Following is a list of communities in which the American Cancer Society guestroom program is currently available along with participating hotels.  Patients in need of rooms should not call hotels directly to reserve their rooms.  Instead, they should call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

Beatrice – New Victorian Suites

Columbus – Western Extended Stay

Fremont – Clarion Inn

Grand Island – Fairfield Inn

Hastings – Comfort Inn

Kearney – Best Western, Holiday Inn

Lincoln – Best Western Crown Inn, Candlewood Suites, Howard Johnson Inn, Lincoln Heights Hotel, New Victorian Suites, Residence Inn, Settle Inn & Suites, Staybridge Suites, The Cornhusker Marriott

Norfolk – New Victorian Suites, Super 8

North Platte – America’s Best Value Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Super 8

Omaha – Candlewood Suites, Comfort Inn & Suites, Doubletree Hotel, Hampton Inn (by Lakeside and Westroads), Hilton Omaha, Hilton Garden Inn (West), Magnolia Hotel, Ramada Plaza Omaha, Residence Inn, Sheraton Omaha Hotel, Staybridge Suites, StudioPlus

York – New Victorian Suites