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 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 19.


Cass County Survivor Has Many Reasons to Fight Back Through Relay For Life

By Carrie Jensen

July 22nd, 2009 our lives were flipped upside down when my husband and I heard the words “I’m sorry, we found cancer.”  I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma in my abdomen, liver, chest and bone marrow.

Jane Kirk and Dr. Bierman came to my room and mapped out my treatment plan and helped me feel like we were going beat this.  We were very scared. Scared of what exactly what would happen next. Scared to tell the kids, scared of chemo, scared of sickness, baldness, being treated differently, and I was scared that I might die. It was just a scary time.

We never asked “what next?” Instead we asked “what can we do to get rid of cancer?”  And we fought.  My first round of chemo was August 4th and my hair began to fall out 12 days later. My kids went with me to buzz my hair off.  I had spent most of that morning, pre-buzz job, crying and blogging because I knew I couldn’t upset them by bawling my eyes out in front of them. I was really sad about losing my cute hair.

Looking back, I now know it was much deeper than just “my hair”. Being bald was the first physical confirmation that I was indeed sick with cancer and that scared me…a lot. But we made it through that day and, as it turns out…my head is perfectly round!  So being bald wasn’t quite as bad as I had feared.

I had six rounds of chemo and only got sick two of those times. I had it better than some. My co-workers had been affected by two of us having cancer at the same time. Me and Katie.  They raised money for our families…and Relay For Life too!  They rock!

At my last treatment, in November, the doctor told me the cancer would never be gone. To say I was shocked is a huge understatement. I thought remission meant cure. I was wrong. It means a chronic illness that isn’t making you sick. Upon hearing that piece of news…I went into a funk. I was depressed, mad, sad and angry.

For the first time since my diagnosis I thought “why me?” I felt sorry for myself. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to do anything.

December 9th, a CT scan and doc appointment day, I was still in the funk.  Not talking or smiling. Just being there was hard. Kevin and a stranger across the waiting room stuck up a conversation when I went to the bathroom. Kevin doesn’t typically talk to random strangers.

Carrie with Daulton and Kevin

His wife was having a PET scan. Their news was not good news.  Her cancer wasn’t in remission. They were both about my age. They had kids at home and they were going home to tell them that she was going to die. I don’t even know how that conversation would go. I thought about it, just in case, but to speak it…I just don’t know how.

Even though I don’t know their names, I think of them often. My heart aches for them.

Later in the same day my doctor told me I was in remission. It took me hearing their story to begin realizing how blessed I am. How blessed my family is.

They are why I Relay. Katie is why I Relay. I am why I Relay. And my mom is why Relay.  She was diagnosed with extensive, small cell lung cancer January 30, 2012. 

The American Cancer Society has provided my family with multiple resources; books for my kids about chemo and cookbooks for eating during treatment.  I am the coordinator for Daffodils Days at my organization and this is the third year I will Relay.  When I called the American Cancer Society they provided me with pdf files that I could share with my employer and family regarding my chemo.  They sent me information for my mom.  I am a Survivor!  I am a Warrior.  And now, I am a Caretaker. 

The ACS office in Omaha sent my mother a beautiful card and a Survivor t-shirt.  She was moved to tears by the thoughtfulness.  She hadn’t thought of herself as a Survivor.  She does now.  She is halfway through chemo and still has a month of radiation after that.

I am grateful for the ACS team in Omaha.  They have provided me support and guidance through each of my roles in cancer. 

In closing here is a letter to cancer.

Dear Cancer:

I wanted to let you know what you have left behind in the crazy rant you ran thru my life in the last year.

You took my health, energy and strength and you left me feeling weak and shaky.  I would sleep for hours on end. I didn’t know I could feel so bad.

You took my hair and I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t sick anymore. But when it first started falling out, I knew it was true. When I looked like Sinead O’Connor and then later Mr. Clean’s little sister, I really couldn’t deny it, you were part of my life now.

You scared me. I thought having a diagnosis of cancer meant I was going to die. I didn’t know what to expect from treatment. I didn’t know if it would work.

I was really mad that you scared my kids!  They were terrified and I felt so ill that it was hard for me to comfort and console them, as a mother should do.

You’ve also left behind a stronger person and family.

I have a new zest for life. I love the flowers that bloom in my flower beds, and the beautiful sunrises and sunsets of the summer. I even like some of the snow…

Daulton, Ryan, Hannah and Grace will always remember what cancer did to us.

It has taught them to not fear cancer or people that have cancer.

They will always raise money and awareness for cancer. They are loving and supportive of others impacted by this disease.

Others should form a team or donate at Relay For Life because without them, we lose the fight.  Cancer is not a death sentence and we need people to constantly be aware of it, keep talking about it, and keep raising money towards a cure!  The energy, the healing energy at Relay is amazing.  It lifts my spirits, it humbles me, it reminds me of those we have lost.  It moves me. 

Carrie Jensen will be fighting back with her team at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Cass County on June 23 at Plattsmouth High School.  Other events in the Omaha area include the Relay of Sarpy County on June 1 at Papillion-LaVista South High School, the Relay of Midtown Omaha on June 2 at Norris Middle School and the Relay of Douglas County on June 9 at Elkhorn South High School.  Log on to to find out more information or to find a Relay close to you.  You may also call 1-800-227-2345 for more information.

American Cancer Society Relay For Life Hits Its Stride in Nebraska

Relay For Life is the signature event for the American Cancer Society and this weekend, nine Nebraska communities will host events marking the unofficial start to “Relay Season” in the state.  This spring, six college/youth Relays took place as well as one community event in Gage County altogether raising nearly $400,000 for the American Cancer Society’s mission to save lives and create more birthdays. 
         Relay For Life is a fun-filled, overnight event that mobilizes communities throughout the country to celebrate survivors, remember loved ones, and empower others to fight back against a disease that takes too much.  This weekend’s events are nine of 49 that will be held across Nebraska this year making it the second-busiest Relay weekend only behind the weekend of June 10-12 which will see 12 statewide events.
         “The American Cancer Society Relay For Life raises awareness about the progress against cancer while also raising funds to fight the disease,” said Deb Seaton, Director of Income Development for the American Cancer Society. “Individuals who are willing to give their time and energy to this exciting event, as a volunteer or participant, have made a commitment to fight back against cancer and let the community know that cancer can be beat.”
         Teams gather with tents and sleeping bags to participate in the largest fundraising walk in the nation. Relay For Life unites friends, families, businesses, hospitals, schools and churches … people from all walks of life. Teams seek sponsorship prior to the Relay, all with the goal of supporting a cure for cancer.
         For more information on Relay For Life, to make a donation or to find a Relay For Life near you, go to or call 1-800-227-2345.  For a complete list of Relays around the state, log on to