Be a ripple effect…

Dear Parents,


Before I start, let me tell you about me. I am a mom. I am actually a mom and a dad. I am a single parent. That being said, I am pretty weathered-I’m not going to lie. I have had to pull the weight of raising my three children for most of their lives. They are all grown now and I feel my job as both parents turned out to be the best it could be. It wasn’t easy and there were many times I wanted someone else to take the reins. Oh, the thought…. the relief of someone else being there to discipline, teach manners, rules, morals, talk, cook, clean, read, help with homework, pick up the aftermath of flu, to name a few. The weight of a parenting is a heavy one. It can test every fiber of one’s thought and will. The parenting gig will make you acquire wrinkles, lose sleep and earn every gray hair on your head. Toddler years to teenage years to being young adults…And, now that they are grown, weirdly enough, I miss every second of raising them. Honestly, I would do it all over again. It was a fleeting moment on the large scale of things and I miss it. All of it.

Working for the Breast Cancer Family Foundation has filled a small void in filling that parental role. Kind of. I now go into schools and get to talk to students about cancer and cancer prevention. My goal is to touch their hearts with stories and knowledge that reach a part of them that yearns to be a better, healthier version of themselves. I talk about the importance of nutrition and exercise and other science proven things we can do for ourselves to be healthy but I also cover other important topics such as smoking, vaping, and Juuling.

Juuling hasn’t been around very long. In fact it was brought to the US in 2007. The Juul was intended for current smokers, not for someone who has never smoked much less alone a young person. We are just hitting the tip of the iceberg on what this potentially can do to our health. As an organization, we have to stay current on the subject as we seem to have new info on the subject daily. Last year I was in an auditorium packed with a couple hundred high school students. I had asked the teachers to leave the room because I wanted to have an honest conversation with the kids. I asked the students to stand up if they had ever tried to vape or Juul. The room hummed with small chatter and the noise of every student standing. There was not a student sitting. They sat back down and we started a genuine dialogue. I heard stories of why they started or tried Juul. Most of them were doing it because their friends were. Many told me they couldn’t quit if they wanted to. This. Breaks. My. Heart.

I am not oblivious to peer pressure or the need to feel like you fit in. I get it. I was a teenager once. I had three of them. There is a line though. A line we need to draw for our children. It is a metaphor for a mutual, common place where parents and children can go daily. A place to have conversations. A place to hear about each other’s day. A place to laugh, cry, and vent. A place to listen and guide. It is a safe place that takes years to establish a growing, respectable relationship with our children. The earlier the better, however it is never too late. It is our job as parents to meet them on that line daily and talk about stuff we may not feel entirely comfortable about. It is easier to openly talk about tough topics preventively than deal with them as a current issue. Having these conversations is necessary in terms of this vaping/Juul epidemic. The repercussions of ignoring it will and is biting us in the butt. This Juul epidemic has hit us like a storm. Use is up over 75% and as a result we are seeing a new generation addicted to nicotine. Juul’s website is now offering resources and tips to help teenagers and young people quit. The CEO of Juul is apologizing to parents for the nicotine addiction. This is a real problem. We love our children and we never want to see them suffer. It is our guidance that can have an impact. We are having a growing number of kids out there suffering with nicotine addiction because of the Juul. One pod is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. I have spoken to kids who are doing up to 10 pods a week! Those that are trying to quit may or are suffering and feeling irritable, restless or jittery. They are having headaches, increased sweating, feeling sad or down, anxious, tired and groggy. They may be having trouble thinking clearly or concentrating, having trouble sleeping, are hungrier. This is just the nicotine aspect of a Juul! Wow….if parenting a teen who isn’t going through this isn’t tough enough!


As we approach a new school year, I encourage parents to establish or strengthen that line with their children. It isn’t going to be a fun kind of conversation but it is one that hopefully will reconnect you to that child that is growing inside of that preteen/teenage body. Whether or not they would admit to needing you yet (or not), please know they do and your opinion matters. Talking to our children about loving themselves should be a frequent conversation. It starts there. It is the stone thrown, known to have that ripple effect.

Have a great school year with your kids!

Sincerely,

Holly Fox | BCFF Community Educator

A Note of Gratitude…

I think it was quite possibly the hottest day so far this summer.  Camp was beautiful.  The cabin I was in overlooked a lake and was surrounded by trees.  There was so much humidity in the air you could see a soft, transparent blanket of mist covering everything.  The sun was going down and the reflection through the trees hitting the water and pier were beautiful.  Swimsuits were hanging as if they were trying to dry in the high humidity.  I could hear the girls coming towards the cabin, chattering or singing in small groups among themselves. It was my second night at camp and I was excited to see the faces I had spoken to the night before.

The night before I spoke to the girls about taking care of themselves mentally. I had started the presentation with an intention to show how quickly we can jump to a conclusion and judge others based on what we see. Hoping they’d take the bait, I was to launch into my healthy mind, healthy you segment. As they walked in, the giggles dissipated as I stood there with an expressionless, stoic face.  I wore a soft beige blouse, business skirt, and heals.  I put more make up on than usual, sporting some matte lipstick I had to dig around for at home. I certainly didn’t look like I belonged in camp. I said nothing until they were all sitting in front of me. I stood erect, properly poised as I said my hello and explained that I was Ms Holly, CEO from an elite organization that worked with young girls to obtain high self-esteem. My tone was different for me and it was hard not to break out into laughter.  I asked if they were ready to hear what I had to say and I think I heard a couple muddled yes’s.  As I spoke with a conceded tone, I stopped as if my thoughts were side tracked.  I told them I “forgot” to hand out the note paper and pens I brought for them.  I had wanted them to write down their opinion of me. I encouraged them to write as much as they wanted and it told them it was ok if it was negative or seemingly mean as I wouldn’t know who wrote what. I collected the little pieces of paper and proceeded to read them out loud. Some of them held nothing back! Kids are so honest.  It is part of why I love what I do. Some things the girls wrote down included-rich, well dressed, thinks highly of herself, had plastic surgery, pristine, pretty, poised, mean, emotionless, high end, old, lots of make-up.  As I read the little sheets of paper, I explained that my feet hurt and I needed to take off my shoes. I reached down and took each shoe off and plopped them on the floor in front of me.  They were very quiet and watched intently as I read a couple more comments.  I paused, looked up and at the girls and reached into my purse for some wipes where I proceeded to take off my make-up. They squirmed and looked at each other. I kept a straight face and read a couple more. Some comments weren’t so nice and it made some of the girls gasp at the raw honesty of others. I remained calm and told them it seemed to be very hot in the cabin. The pretty blouse and skirt I was wearing came off to reveal a much cooler and simple outfit. Now I looked like I belonged in camp! I looked up to see many of them sitting with their mouths and eyes wide open and with a look of disbelief. My tone changed. “I wasn’t what you thought I was?” How quickly we can judge others and assume. I proceeded to say, “My name is Holly and I am with the Breast Cancer Family Foundation.” The lesson went on to explain that we often will do this when we are social media, phones and our computers.  Anyone can present themselves in any kind of way. They can pretend to be something they are not, act like they have something they don’t, pretend to know something you don’t. It is hard to know what is real and what is not. We are plagued with what we think the world wants us to be rather than celebrating who we are and what gifts we have to bring to this life. We start comparing ourselves to others, trying to define our interpretation of what success looks like to the world rather than to ourselves. The path is different for everyone. Comparison steals joy. It can affect your self-esteem, which can lead to feeling anxious and depressed and engaging in unhealthy habits. We followed the conversation with an exercise that lifted each of us. We learned that we all have struggles. I stressed the idea of being more compassionate, kind and understanding towards others. It truly feels better on both ends. The plan should be for us to be a better person tomorrow than we were today, both mentally and physically. We finished the evening with hugs and a photo.  The photo of us was snapped after I asked them to proclaim, “I’m beautiful.” I asked three times before I got half the response I was hoping for. I left thinking, I need for that response to be much louder when I return tomorrow evening.

Overall, the first night went well and I was excited to return the second evening. I was going to bring in the previous night’s content into the second night while covering other aspects of wellness. They knew me now and I hoped to have gained some respect and trust from the girls.  I was dressed in my casual shorts this night. Thank goodness.  The evening was much like the previous, warm and humid. 

I waited inside by the door and high fived the girls as they entered the cabin.  Half way through the line, a brown-eyed girl secretly handed me a folded up note.  I felt like it was a secret.  I felt like I was in high school, getting slipped a note only intended for my eyes to read.  I smiled softly at her, said thank you and slipped the unevenly folded note into my short pocket.  The evening flowed and was filled with topics like sunscreen, sleep, nutrition, exercise and self-care. I learned from listening to the girls and felt like this age (8-12) was so impressionable. There were several big issues for the girls that came up again and again. Many talked about an alone feeling of being the only one (fill in the blank), bullying, family issues and electronic distractions. Nutrition and exercise was a common theme as well as taking care of our earth. It was an amazing couple of hours and a gift for me to spend that time with these girls who are a fraction of my age. The struggles, the awareness and the willingness to thrive at this age should never be underestimated. The girls were very honest about their life struggles and we discussed how we can improve our life every day. 

I needed another picture.  We posed and I asked them to say “I’m beautiful!” Ahhhh.  There is was. It actually hurt my ears.  I received more hugs this night than the last.  It felt amazing and I hated to see the night end.  It was raining when I left and I was happy I wasn’t wearing heals as I headed through camp and back to my car.  The girls left at the same time to head back to their cabins for the night.  As I was almost back to my vehicle. I heard a group yell, “We love you Ms. Holly.”  I smiled and waved to them as I got into my car and listened to the rain hit the window as I thought about the evening.  I then remembered the note the brown eyed girl slipped me.  I pulled it from my pocket and gently unfolded the note to find the little girl’s written words touching. Moments like this are priceless. They are fleeting and gone, but the impression and impact we have reinforces our “reason” in the work we do at the Breast Cancer Family Foundation. 

Dear Holly,

Thank you so much for coming.  You are now one of my top role models. You reminded me that I could do so much more for myself. I’m feeling better about me and having self-esteem. I think everyone should hear from you because I think it could change a lot. Have you ever heard of the book, Strong Is The New Pretty?  I think you would like it.

Thank you so much.   – Sophie

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/