Holly’s End of Year Thoughts

Hey all! It’s Holly.  My second year as an educator for the Breast Cancer Family Foundation is winding down as the school year is ending with a much anticipated summer.  This winter was brutal and I think students and teachers alike share the anticipated relief.  I have only two years to go on, but this winter had so much snow I found myself rescheduling not once but sometimes twice due to so many snow days.

Students are cleaning out lockers and desks.  Teachers are finishing up grades and custodians are trying to maintain order in the hallway.  The energy can be felt by students and staff alike. A great parallel in visualizing this environment is like watching the end of the movie Grease. For me, it is a time of reflection, both personally and professionally. I think back to the entire school year; the schools I had visited, the students, the stories along with the emotions I take away from the experiences.  I always go into a school with an anticipated excitement, to share what I know and to inspire my listeners to live a healthier life.  Each day I speak, my hope is to make an impression on one student’s thoughts where they might make some life changes that lead them to a healthier life.

Let’s be honest, teenagers are almost from a different world, a different culture, a different language!  Part of my job as a speaker/educator, is entering that world and making a connection and difference.   I’m not going to lie, this has been a work in progress for me and is a tricky endeavor. But, once you’re in their world…it is amazing!  There are no words to explain the conversations where you know you are making an impact. The hugs, the thank you, the questions, the “thank you for coming” as they leave the classroom mean so much. I cherish the moments when a student tells me about the changes they are going to make to become healthier.

I am a big story teller when I speak.  I make my presentation work with my stories.  These accumulated stories are acquired through past classrooms experiences so it is not uncommon for my presentation to change some throughout the school year.  There are many stories I could share. Some of them are funny, some could make you cry yet other stories leave you with a “WOW” feeling that stays with you.  I have decided to share a “wow story” to give you a glimpse of the impact the Breast Cancer Family Foundation has on our youth.

This happened in a high school classroom where approximately 40 students sat in individual desks. It was a health class that consisted of junior and seniors. There was one boy who was seated in the middle of the classroom who would not look at me when I spoke.  He would look down, while swaying his head back and forth so I figured he had headphones in. I’d walk back and forth to see if I could get a glimpse of his ears to confirm a set of ear plugs, but they weren’t there. Twenty minutes had passed and I had not been able to make eye contact with this student. At one point, he turned around to speak to the teacher who was sitting in the back of the classroom. This student then got up and walked out.  Assumingly, I thought the kid had to go to the bathroom and was afraid to get up while a guest speaker was in his classroom.  He returned a few minutes later only to return to his original state of no eye contact with a swaying head.  This started to bother me and I made it a goal of mine to make eye contact by the end of my presentation.  I tried to spike his interest by moving my hands in a theatrical manner while pacing back and forth.  It wasn’t working and he didn’t look at me once, but got up from his desk and started to walk towards me when he passed out and fell at my feet. When he came through, I asked him if he was diabetic or had any underlying medical conditions.  His reply was no. I asked him if he had breakfast and he said yes, but was wondering how he got down on the floor.  The teacher called the school nurse and he was removed the classroom. I proceeded and finished my presentation with the other students. I answered questions and packed my things up.  When I walked out of the classroom, I saw that student and nurse sitting on the floor leaning back on the lockers.  He was pretty pale and he had a blank stare on his face.  I decided to approach him so I also sat on the floor across from him.  I got eye contact! It made me smile and I asked how he was doing and wondered if I could ask him some personal questions.  He said he felt a little better and agreed to answer my questions.  I know the topic of cancer can be a very real and raw thing for some students, so I asked him if he had a family member or someone close to him that was inflicted with cancer. He looked at me and said no.  Then it hit me. I carefully and warmly asked him if he had a lump.  His answer was yes. I wondered if his parents knew about it but he said he had not told them.  I reacted calmly as this poor guy was scared and riddled with anxiety.  I encouraged him to tell his parents or someone he trusted to see a Doctor. It may not be cancer, however if it was, it is always best to catch it early.

 I felt better after I spoke to him and I hope he followed through with getting care.  It was an impactful day not only for him, but for me as well. It was a nice reminder for me that everyone has a story.  Our message at the Breast Cancer Family Foundation is powerful. It impacts and it does make a difference. He was student #13 this school year to tell me in confidence about a lump they were concerned about on their body. I honestly don’t know if I will ever know how this boy’s story ends but I can’t help thinking of the different directions this kid’s life could have taken. I’m glad I was there that day. It was a day I made eye contact at exactly the right moment.  

Take Care of your Skin!

SPF 2, 6, or 8.  That is all we had when I was a teenager.  I even went through several aluminum/silver blankets they use to sell next to the suntan oils. This great combo along with your willingness, ensured the darkest tan possible. It surely did deliver! I got some seriously dark beautiful tans. I was baking myself like a piece of chicken outside in the hot sun.   In college, my roommates and I would line up our silver blankets, crank the tunes, and check out the boys.  Life was good!  I loved being out in the sun.  I loved how it made me feel and look. Never, did I think that this would come back and haunt me.

Decades have passed since those crazy college days. Life goes on and somehow you become really busy with things. For me, I got married, had kids, I worked a couple of jobs, I did all the mom stuff around the house like running errands, paying bills, taking kids where they needed to be. Life consumed my days.  The days seemed to pass quickly. All of sudden the years passed and the face I once looked at in the mirror looked older.  Gray hairs had taken the place of my once thick dark auburn hair.  Wrinkles appeared around my eyes and my mouth. Dark sun spots had found their home on my arms and face.  One day, while I was getting dressed, life literally seemed to stop for me. There was a small dot on my leg  I never remember seeing before.  It was a different color than the rest of my freckles and moles. My mind wandered and feared this could be the years of tanning had caught up with me.  My gut instinct was to make an appointment with the dermatologist just to make sure it wasn’t something it shouldn’t be.  I was scared to call and I pondered with high anxiety for a few days before I finally made the call.

I did it.  I showed up. I was draped in a hospital gown. I had no idea of what to expect.  I just wanted it to be over with. The anxiety I was feeling consumed me and I could feel that my hands and toes were cold. The room was plain with the exception of some posters on the wall showing you different types of skin cancer. I tried not to look at it as I already felt like I was consumed with my worry.  When the dermatologist came in, he had these google binocular looking glasses on and turned on a bright light so he could examine my skin.  He looked in my scalp, in between my toes, and every other square inch on my body. He examined every freckle and mole on my body explaining in medical terminology what he was seeing on my skin so the nurse could transcribe into the computer.  I had no idea what he was saying but I didn’t like hearing him talk.  When he was done, he explained there was one in particular he needed to have removed.  It was that little dot on my leg! He went on to ask if I would want a plastic surgeon because of the size hole they needed to take out of my leg.  Unfortunately, a year later I had another one removed from the top of my right foot.   Now, it is imperative I go to an annual dermatology exam.

Every choice has a consequence. Good ones and bad ones. Even if it takes years to manifest.  I am now considered a high risk. The lack of sunscreen and the mole removals puts me on a list with the dermatologist to come in once a year for an annual skin check. I have nothing to show by working so hard on those tans except wrinkles, dark spots, and scars from cutting moles and cancer risks.  I have made a lot of mistakes and bad choices in my life.  This is one thing in my life that I wish I could go back and have a “do-over”.  I wonder what my skin would look like had I not tanned so much. I know many think a healthy tan looks great but skin cancer is ugly and it can take your life. Therefore, I resolve that your natural skin tone trumps a tanned version. Trust me on that one. I had asked my dermatologist about the tanning beds I had gone in as a teenager.  His face told me the answer, but he continued to reaffirm that tanning beds only increased my risks.  There is no such thing as preparing your skin with a base tan with a tanning bed to prevent skin cancer/damage. He encouraged me to wear sunscreen every day.  The winter and cloudy days count as well.  How much? When? It was explained to me that I should be applying a liberal amount every couple of hours.  He suggests at least 30 SPF but 50 SPF is now showing in studies to be more beneficial in protecting one’s skin.  Watch for the expiration date on sunscreen and make sure it is a brand that covers UVA/UVB rays. I wish I had known all this way back when I was younger.

Wrinkle cream is expensive. Having moles removed is also expensive.  Regret is strong.  I can’t undo what I have done to my skin but I can hopefully have an impact on others and advocate wearing sunscreen. Nothing you could ever say to me would convince me that tanning is a good thing.  Tanning in any capacity is bad for your skin. I encourage all to wear sunscreen. There are those who have higher risks like blonde hair, red hair, lighter eyes, 50 or more moles or a history of skin cancer in the family. You also have an increased chance if you have had one bad sunburn before you turn 18. My annual checkup was yesterday. The Doctor shared that the amount of teenagers he sees in his office is at an all-time high.  Malignant Melanoma is no longer an older population disease.  I encourage everyone to be aware of what your skin looks like and pay attention to any changes you see; a new mole or any freckle or mole that changes. Pay attention to that one that looks different than the others. See a dermatologist. Wear your sunscreen using UVA/UVB with at least a 30 SPF protection. Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds. Cover up with clothing and glasses.

For those days that I pondered the thought of even calling the Doctor was for the reason of me not wanting it to be cancer. I wasn’t ready to deal with that. Because I didn’t want it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’m grateful I went in. Please don’t ignore your body’s signals. Go with your gut always. It is your body’s way of communicating with you. It has been a life lesson for me and I am glad I went in despite my fear. In the end, you have to do you and take care of yourself. Nobody else is going to do it for you. This one is on you.

Impact the World Around You

The classroom bell rang. A high school girl made her way through the chaos of bustling students who were eager to get in the hallway. I had just completed my 4th presentation that day.  When I am done speaking, it is common for students to come up and ask me questions or tell me a story of a family or friend inflicted with cancer. All of the other students had left the classroom and this girl just stood there in front of me. I asked her if she had a question as she didn’t say anything.  She stood there and her eyes welt up with tears. She held her finger up indicating she needed a moment before she could say anything. I asked her if she was ok. She nodded yes.  I asked her if it involved a friend or family member. She nodded no. I stood there waiting patiently and empathetically as I watched the tears roll down her cheeks.  After a few minutes, she gathered enough courage to utter what she wanted to say. “Thank you.” A few seconds of pause and she said it again, “ I just wanted to say thank you.” She wiped her tears and walked away. 

I stood there silently, pondering my last few minutes.  I wondered if there was someone in her life who really had cancer. I then thought of what her family life was like. Did she lack a positive female role model in her life and I filled that void, if only for that hour? Did she need somebody to care? I probably will never learn what brought that student to thank me so tearfully. I will however, forever remember how it made me feel.

Initially, I took on my role as an educator to fill an empty space in my own life.  My biggest passion in life is parenting. It truly is the best thing I have ever done for myself.  My last and third child left for college and I was an empty nester.  The ache is real and it hasn’t been easy.  It seemed only natural for me to seek out opportunities where I could impact our youth. I am so grateful for this opportunity as the lives I have touched and impacted have been many in a very short period of time.  A routine of speaking back to back classes, presenting to different schools during any given week can blur together, but then I have moment like that, with a student, where my impact as an educator becomes the reason. 

As Jane Goodall said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference,  and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

~Holly | BCFF Community Educator – Central Wisconsin

Influencing Others to Make Healthier Choices

Personal training and educational public speaking has enabled me to see a bigger picture. I work with clients trying to improve their health and I work with kids who can still be influenced to make healthier choices. I always tell students that preserving your life is easier than the cure of disease. 

The growing health epidemic for our youth is concerning. Diseases including diabetes, cancer, metabolic syndrome, heart and liver disease are increasing in our youth. Teens with bad eating habits are more likely to suffer from obesity, depression, fatigue, and poor cognitive and physical performance at school. The Breast Cancer Family Foundation is a not for profit organization that is making a positive impact in our schools. We are on the preventive side and talk to middle and high school students about making healthier choices for themselves. I use real stories to connect and engage, speaking about everyday choices that can make an impact on their health. I love what I do and strive to make a positive difference, impacting others to be better, healthier version of themselves. 

For more information, https://bcff.org/