My Story: Part 2

My Story: Part 2

This is the story I published on LinkedIn last year, as it was shared by Kelly Anderson in her blog Red Head on the Run, on November 16, 2015:

Not Your Typical Breast Cancer Story

I was planning to run the 2014 NJ Marathon. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 weeks into the 16 week training program, so I did what any newly diagnosed woman would do, I took to the Internet to research my disease. I found a lot of stuff that scared the crap out of me, so I registered for the Chicago Marathon instead. Figured I needed a plan B.

I did get to run NJ on April 27 (missed a BQ by 2 min and 50 seconds) and had my surgery 10 days later. I had a lumpectomy. All came back good. I took 5 weeks off from running and scheduled 4 weeks of radiation over the summer. I decided to defer Chicago rather than try to train through all of that. I finally ran Chicago this year! I missed a BQ again, but raised almost $6000 for charity. Here is my complete story which explains why I didn’t raise money for breast cancer…….

I am sharing my story with you as a way of creating awareness for something not talked about enough. I hope it can save a life.

I’m a runner. I often run to reduce stress and keep my sanity. I ran a lot in 2014. This year, the Chicago Marathon completed my fifth full marathon. Like the other four, I had decided to use my participation in this event to raise money for charity. In the past, I have raised a significant amount of money for a variety of charities that meant something to me; maybe because I worked for the organization and had a really good understanding of their work, or maybe because a friend or family member was personally touched by the cause. This time, the cause is more personal.

In the Spring of 2014 I became a breast cancer survivor, but I’m not raising money for breast cancer. A lot of people raise money for breast cancer. I am thankful for that. Because of the funds raised for breast cancer I received an early diagnosis. I had access to great medical care and treatment.

My cancer was diagnosed at a time when I was experiencing a level of stress that can only be described as toxic. In recent years I had lost both of my parents and a close Aunt and Uncle. I had managed the care and personal affairs of both my mother and aunt – both diagnosed with alzheimer’s – in their final years of life. I worked stressful jobs with horrendous commutes because they provided the resources I needed to support my family. My husband had been laid off from a job in late 2003 and never went back to work. I was doing everything I could to keep it together for my family.

I believe, based on what I read, that stress played a large role in my cancer. After my surgery I began counseling, something I would never have considered in the past; but I didn’t think I would be much good to my family if I didn’t get help. I had to pay out-of-pocket. It wasn’t covered by insurance, but I didn’t care. I would make sacrifices in other areas. When I was the CEO of Gilda’s Club Northern New Jersey (a cancer support organization), I learned how important social and emotional support is when living with cancer. I also learned that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t just happen to the individual but it affects the whole family. I urged my husband to seek support as well.

I completed my last radiation treatment on August 19, 2014 and I’m now happy to report I’m cancer free (and keeping my fingers crossed that I remain so). After going through a cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatment, I never imagined that anything else could change my life the way that experience did; but I was wrong.

October 6, 2014 began like any other day. I dropped my daughter off at school (she had just started her freshman year in high school), my husband and I dealt with some house issues and financial concens in the morning and then I was off to Starbucks to do some work on my laptop and meet a business colleague. When I returned home a little after 5:00 that evening, I found a note taped to the garage door. It read: “I am in the garage. Probably dead. Don’t let (our daughter) see me. Love, Chris.” My husband of 21 years and 4 months, my daughter’s father, had committed suicide.

It was only then that I realized that he too had a disease. Mental illness is a disease; but, like in his case, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated until it’s too late. There were times over the years that I knew something was wrong. In the months leading up to his death I urged him to seek help, but he didn’t want to go to a therapist because, unlike my breast cancer treatments, it wasn’t covered by insurance. He felt we didn’t have any more money to spend on something like that and I really had no idea how bad he was.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States; more people die of suicide than in car accidents. In 2010, the total number of suicide deaths in the United States was 38,364. Historically, suicide rates rise during times of financial stress and economic setbacks. In 2009 it was the 7th leading cause of death for males, and the 16th leading cause of death for females. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans, aged 35 to 64 increased nearly 30 percent. The largest increases were among men in their 50s, and women 60 to 64, at rates of 50 and 60 percent, respectively. Older adults are disproportionately likely to die by suicide.

So much needs to be done to advocate for better care and treatment of mental illness, to educate the public about the warning signs of suicide, and to provide support to families in crisis. I think it can be argued that mental health issues are at the root of so many of society’s problems; contributing to other diseases like cancer and heart disease to being the issue behind substance abuse, and gun violence.

Breast cancer was a lot less treatable – and survivable – when people decided to raise money to change that. It’s time to put that kind of power behind mental health. We can make a difference. Running the Chicago Marathon this year was an effort to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It is their goal to reduce the annual suicide rate in the United States 20% by 2025. They fund suicide prevention research, provide education to create a culture that is smart about mental health and they provide evidence-based programs for schools, colleges and hospitals. They advocate for policies that will improve mental health services and reduce suicide. And they provide support to those who struggle with thoughts of suicide and they also help loss survivors heal.

I am running the NJ Marathon on Sunday.  With some more of the emotional baggage behind me, I want to give the BQ one more shot. I am also still raising money for AFSP and hoping to reach that goal too. The link to my fundraising page: http://afsp.donordrive.com/campaign/Connolly.

Most importantly, learn everything you can about preventing suicide and advocate for better mental health. Thank you!

356534_208268929_XLarge2015 Chicago Marathon Finisher

The new job

The new job

I started a full-time job on April 4th. I saw a friend last week who had read my vague post about it on FaceBook. “Why didn’t you didn’t tell me about your new job?” I tried to articulate why I hadn’t told her or made more of a big announcement about it and I know I must have made it seem like I didn’t like the job which couldn’t be the furthest thing from the truth. So I spent the weekend putting into (better) words an announcement about my new job.

I am Director of Development for Bergen Family Center in Englewood, New Jersey (although the CEO said it was okay if I put “Chief Development Officer” on my business card). I was first introduced to Bergen Family Center when I started my non-profit career with Bergen County’s United Way, so almost 20 years ago. It was always one of the go-to agencies when we needed help illustrating to our corporate supporters what we did. I often brought groups through for tours of the facility on Armory Street in Englewood that housed adult daycare and childcare programs. United Way provided support to those programs as well as HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Pre-school Youngsters), which I always regarded as such a fabulous initiative. The clients of these programs and the staff never failed to tug at the heartstrings of would be donors.

About a year ago, another consultant put me in back in touch with BFC’s CEO, Mitch Schonfeld. At the time, I told Mitch I wasn’t ready to go back to work full-time and since his agency was still in the midst of a strategic planning process, he wasn’t sure he was ready to fill the position either. I also doubted BFC could afford me, and to be completely honest, I wasn’t sure it would be a good “career move” and might be perceived by others as a step down from where my career had been.

I started exploring options last fall, although I just couldn’t connect with anything that felt right. I interviewed for positions that were a good match for my expereince and salary-range, but nothing excited me. Some soul searching concluded that this time around my quality of life was most important. I wanted a sane boss, a realistic commute, and the flexibility I now needed as a single parent of a teenager. And I wanted to continue to pursue my new coaching interest – and I wanted to fundraise for a mission I could be passionate about! A tall order, perhaps. I called Mitch in January and was happy to hear the position was still open and he was targeting a spring hiring date.

So here I am; realizing this is the first job that I’ve taken since my first job right out of college that wasn’t really a strategic career move. Maybe that’s where I was struggling with the announcement. It is a win-win, however. I have the quality of life I need and the ability to pay my mortgage. BFC is getting a seasoned, professional fundraiser with New York City experience. And I’m starting to understand that by having a very different motivation coming into the position, I’m more focused on what’s best for the organization right now, not my personal career goals moving forward. That’s very liberating.

I think we’re going to work really well together. And that’s most important. Sometimes moving in the right direction doesn’t mean a promotion or more money. There is a moment when enough is indeed enough and exactly what you need to be very happy (although yeah, still wanted to be “Chief Development Officer”).

Bergen Family Center, founded in 1898, is Bergen County’s oldest family service agency. We offer services to children (daycare and after school care), adolescents (school-based prevention and leadership programs) and older adults (adult daycare and care management for home-bound elderly) as well as counseling and other community programs including the Family Success Center (mentors helping families learn new skills & acquire tools to make positive change) and Ryan White HIV/AIDS Services. To learn more about us or to make my job easier by making a donation, please visit our website at www.bergenfamilycenter.org. And please reach out to me if you’d like to take a tour. My office number is 201-568-0817.

Oh, and I should mention, Mitch runs…

IMG_3616Mackay Park, Englewood, New Jersey, April 2016

Kilometers for Causes

Kilometers for Causes

The blog is late this week. I was much busier last week than I’ve been for almost two years…seriously! And I wasn’t ready to publish anything I had drafted. So yeah, I decided late was okay.

On Monday April 4, I started my new job. More on that another time. In addition, I was the race director for my running club’s inaugural relay race which took place last Sunday. I know. I picked a bad week to start a new job. But all was good. The week at the job went well; accomplished what I wanted to in week one and the relay was just great. Sixty people participated – not bad for a first-time event in which teams of four where required – and the club raised money. Actually a lot more more money than we did on last year’s garage sale fundraiser. So the proceeds of the event for the most part will go toward supporting club activities. Its our mission to keep people running for better health and fitness, so we’ll do more of that. But we will also make a small donation to a local charitable cause and as the event grows and we raise more money, we’ll look to make a bigger impact. I hope that you’ll consider coming out next year. To learn more, visit the event’s web page at www.HarriersRelay.com or “Like” the event FaceBook page to be notified as soon as we have a date confirmed…and to see more pictures from this year.

So now that the spring racing season is in full swing, some of you may be trying to figure out what races to run. And as I’ve said before, it’s always good to support a worthwhile cause. Many races raise funds that support our communities and our neighbors.  Here’s a list of some events in Northern New Jersey that support worthwhile causes. It is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few races I’ve done or heard about and feel good recommending. For the complete list of this year’s New Jersey races, click here. If you’re too far away, I recommend going to the National USA Track and Field calendar to find some in your area. Do some thorough research. The race should be sanctioned by USATF and course certified. Also read reviews and find out where the money is going. Now lace up your shoes and get the whole family involved!

April 2016

16     Building Tomorrows 5k Run, Bloomfield

17     Englewood Shalom 5k & 1 Mile Fun Run, Englewood

23     Atlantic Stewardship Bank Run for Housing, 4 mile, Woodland Park

23     River Edge Run, 5k, River Edge

23     Susan Zabransky Hughes Memorial Run, 5k, Saddle River

24     Radburn 5k Run/Walk/Kids’ Fun Run, Fair Lawn

May 2016

1       Rock the River-Palisades Half Marathon, 5k and 6k Trail Run, Fort Lee

1       Waldwick Chamber of Commerce 5k, Waldwick

7       3rd Annual Memorial 5k for Cancer & 1 Mile Family Run/Walk, Liberty State Park

8       35th Annual Rubin Run, 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, Kaplen JCC on the Palisades

14     USREF 5k Rock & Roll Run for Education & 1 Mile Fun Run, Upper Saddle River

15     Run the Palisades 5k/10k, Cliffside Park

21     Our House 4 Miler, Summit

22     Miles for Mike, 5k, Pequannock

30     Fred D’elia Ridgewood Run, 10k, 5k, 1-mile Fun Run, Ridgewood

June 2016

4       Wayne AM Rotary 26th Annual 5k Run and Walk, Packannack Lake, Wayne

5       Tenafly 5k Run, Tenafly

5       Matt Fenton Memorial 5k, Little Ferry

11     The Valerie Fund Walk & JAG Physical Therapy 5k Run,

12     Woodcliff Lake Educational Foundation Run for Education, 10k, 5k, Woodcliff Lake

12     Rotary Day 5K, Pequannock

18     New Milford Fire Dept Run 5k & 1 Mile Road Race, New Milford

19     Westwood Dad’s Dash, 5k, Westwood

26     Tomorrows Children’s Fund “Join Hands” 5k & Mile, Overpeck, Ridgefield Park

Inaugural De Novo Harriers 4×2 Relay, Saddle River County Park, Rochelle Park, NJ, April 2016

My Parents 10k

My Parents 10k

I just made my plans for Father’s Day weekend. With my father and my daughter’s father both gone, it’s a good time for us to get away; spend some time at the beach. But this isn’t really something new. For many years I spent Father’s Day weekend with my parents on Shelter Island (New York) where they retired. And now, my daughter and I go back.  The following was originally published in the March/April 2009 issue of  Good Times (the North Jersey Masters Newsletter).

Shortly after I started high school my parents bought a summer home on Shelter Island, a community of about 2500 that swells to close to 8000 every summer. It’s located between the north and south forks of Long Island and is only accessible by ferry. It was completely charming and I hated it. It was far from my friends – a two and a half hour drive that could easily turn into four on a hot summer Friday night. And of course I was expected to spend every weekend there during my sixteenth summer. The following summer they had decided to rent it out. I was elated. And by 1982 I had a driver’s license and developed great negotiation skills, so Shelter Island became a place that I could avoid. It was my parent’s place.

They retired there in 1988. I dutifully visited once a month; but there was always someplace else I’d rather be. Back then though, I wasn’t a runner. The year that my parents made Shelter Island their permanent home, they volunteered to work a special event in the community—the Shelter Island 10k Run —the ninth annual! I thought they were silly. “You’re handing out water to whom? They’re running how far?” At that time I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to do that. Fast forward eight years. Now married, working in Manhattan, I decided that my company needed a team-building activity. I heard about the Corporate Challenge. Three and a half miles—how hard could that be? I talked everyone into it and we had a good time. When I look back I realize that small experience changed my life. Through that event I had started running.

When I told my parents about my “new sport” they reminded me of the 10k on Shelter Island scheduled for the following month. I entered although I had never run that far before. My goal was to finish. And I did, in 1:06:40. I didn’t think that was too bad for a first time effort, but it wasn’t my performance that struck me that day—it was the fact that I found myself falling in love with Shelter Island. I made my way to the race start adjacent to the Shelter Island School—a school shared by kindergarteners and high school students. I was amazed at how many people were there. An article in The Shelter Island Reporter that week had predicted over 3000 for that year’s event. Where did they all come from? What the heck could be so special about this race—about this place?

The answers became quite clear fairly quickly and were defined further over the next 6.2 miles. I shot from the start at the sound of the horn and preceded downhill—yes, a downhill start!—and after the first turn heard the church bells. The parishioner’s of Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church had come out in force to cheer on the field in a fashion that rivaled New York City’s First Avenue on Marathon Day. And this was only the beginning. When Grete Weitz ran this race she said it was one of the most beautiful courses she had ever run and Runner’s World has listed it among the top 75 races in the country. Nice rolling hills with spectacular views of the bay give way to a stretch of wooded landscape that make you forget you’re on an island. Just before the four-mile marker the course makes a turn onto Shore Road and opens up to the incredible sight of sail boats silently bobbing in the crystal water sparkling in the setting sun as a much needed cool breeze comes in off the bay. Here, overlooking the course, are some of the island’s most stately old summer homes whose inhabitants politely clap for us mid-packers from Adirondack chairs on their expansive front lawns while sipping martinis.

I am especially inspired however, by the contingent of the island’s elderly natives who line Winthrop Road banging pots and pans and sporting crazy hats. I pass on the beer offered to me by a small group partying on Route 114 and continue on to the water station. The course gets cool, shady and quiet for a brief moment in the last mile, but the crowd thickens again as the course turns off Midway onto Bateman Road for the final stretch—a horseshoe on the field behind the American Legion Hall. A local radio station broadcasts the finish and the local favorites in the back of the mid-pack with me are highlighted. I’m just excited about the enormous buffet of fruit and candy and beverages and the fact that I finished, can still stand and have been able to find my parents in the crowd.

That was thirteen years ago. I went on to run nine straight Shelter Island 10ks. I ran it in 1998 for a PR (46:52) that still stands today; I ran it in 2000 nine weeks after my daughter was born (1:18:03). I even found a way to beat the LIE traffic – the Long Island Railroad’s Ronkonkoma Line out of Penn Station is a civilized alternative and ends right at the Shelter Island North Ferry in Greenport. In the later years my little daughter joined her grandparents on Bateman Road to cheer me on.

The last Shelter Island 10k that I ran was the 25th Annual in 2004. I never imagined my streak would end. But things change. My parents sold their house and moved into an apartment closer to me. In 2005 the race date was changed from June to the third weekend in May. With obligations preventing me from making a weekend of it, I ran the Midland Run 15k instead. In 2006, I organized Gilda’s Run on the same weekend. Later that year my father died. He was buried at Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery on Shelter Island, the entrance to which one would pass in the third mile of the 10k. But I haven’t been back to Shelter Island since his funeral. The thought of doing that 10k again has never even crossed my mind. I haven’t even allowed myself to imagine what it would be like without him—and my mom (who is now in assisted living)—there to cheer me. They were my biggest fans. I haven’t allowed myself to imagine that at least until now. Because I’ve learned a lot from my fellow North Jersey Masters members about overcoming challenges— from injuries and heartache and beyond. And because I recently found out that last year the race organizers moved the Shelter Island 10k back to June. Maybe that’s a sign. This year will also be the 30th Annual. I’ve found myself saying, “You can do this.” So I probably will; probably not for a PR. And I will probably be sad when I realize I won’t find my parents in the crowd. But I will be happy that I finished and enjoyed beautiful Shelter Island once more. And my parents will be there —in my heart.

I did run the 2009 (30th Annual) Shelter Island 10k and it was everything I imagine it to be…my time? 51:48. My mother died in 2012 and was buried there along side my dad. In 2013 I decided to renew the annual tradition. Last year, a month after my 50th birthday, I clocked my second best time on the course. 49:04.

The 2016 Shelter Island 10k will be held on June 18; 5:30 p.m. start. For more information and registration go to http://www.shelterislandrun.com/.

IMG_1187Shelter Island 10k Course, about mile 4.