Leaps of Faith
For me, this year has been one of unbelievable joy. It has also been one of unbelievable challenge. And, all the way through in every second of every day, one of unbelievable faith.
If somehow given the choice before this year started, I certainly would have opted for a softer, milder, and less extreme kind of year. However, that would have been an incredible mistake. Thank goodness my only choice was how I was going to thrive through it.
I would love to take you on my journey over the last year, and I invite you to laugh, wonder, pray, question, think, reflect. I imagine that though not specifically the same, all of our journeys have been significant in the last few months. Mine was full of challenge and change, perseverance and promise. With every experience pushing me to face it head on, trusting through grace I was given the confidence and capability to handle each one.
I have always believed everything happens as it should, and all will be well no matter what. After this year, I know this to be true. I took many leaps of faith, was held in joy while mid-air, and given a soft landing every time.
FALL 2019 – Breast Cancer
“Ask for help, show up for others.”
I remember slowly walking out of my individual office at Prouty into our shared work space around 4pm on Monday August 26, and made a general statement to whomever was within ear shot “I have breast cancer, I just got the call, they said I have cancer.” Hugs and tears, and a year of unbelievable support from my Prouty team followed.
Over the next few weeks, the whirlwind of a positive breast cancer test result consumed my days. All of the major questions had to be answered before treatment could begin: How aggressive was the cancer? What grade are the tumors? Has the cancer spread into other areas of my body? What are my chances of living, or dying?
After many additional consults, scans and tests, I was diagnosed with stage two invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) breast cancer, which had unfortunately spread to my lymph nodes. I chose the Mayo Clinic for my care, and they recommended I start chemotherapy right away, followed by surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy.
I distinctly remember sharing with my team a few weeks before being diagnosed that I felt like my life was finally in balance. I had grown into my senior consultant role, and felt like I was at a point where I could focus on really accelerating my impact within the organization, as well as grow in my personal life and into my community. All was really, really well.
Isn’t that how much in life happens, unexpectedly and unscheduled? I was listening to a spiritual teaching recently, and the speaker shared the belief that our quality of our life will be determined by our ability to handle what we don’t see coming. He also stated just because we are surprised by life, doesn’t mean we are not prepared to navigate anything that comes our way.
And so I leapt… into fighting cancer with everything I had. And, everything I had included asking many people for help, which was not easy to do since I am so, so, so independent. However, it seemed everyone in my life was relentless in making sure I was offered and received help, even if I was reluctant to ask for it. They knew, and I eventually realized, there was no way I could fight and win alone. So, I swallowed my pride, and completely opened my life and journey to others. This simple act made all of the difference.
The outpouring of love and support was overwhelming. Family, friends, and co-workers all signed up for my meal and drive train, taking turns driving me to and from Mayo for every appointment, and spending the entire day with me for chemotherapy treatments.
A non-stop parade of packages arrived at my door bursting with meals, lotions, spa products, blankets, hats, scarves, and socks (lots and lots of socks!). There were also those who would constantly check on me through cards, texts, emails, phone calls and visits to just sit with me. Every single thought, hug, prayer, gift and meal came at the exact right time, and usually when I needed a lift of spirits. I am sure these blessings were little reminders from God, evidence I am loved and protected always.
And while I would not have chosen this experience, I am deeply thankful for it. For me, cancer has been a true gift in a very ugly package, a vehicle of vulnerability, a driver of deeper faith and more meaningful relationships. Most importantly, it has revealed to me the importance of showing up for others. No longer will I let a thought of someone pass without reaching out, or a kind thought go unsaid, or an opportunity to be present for others when they need it go by. I know how much of a difference those simple acts made to me, and it is now my turn and responsibility to show up for others.
It is through the lens of fighting breast cancer that I viewed every major life experience that followed. My fight was the frame I used, my faith the hope I clung to through it all. I was committed to finding the joy in every situation and every experience, no matter what happened.
WINTER 2019/2020 – COVID
“We all have what it takes to meet every challenge.”
While in the middle of the toughest part of my chemotherapy treatment, Covid-19 hit the US. Which was not amazing. However, I was prepared. Cancer treatment had compromised my immune system, which meant I had already spent the fall and winter basically sheltered at home, cautious of germs. Covid recommendations were just an extension of a lifestyle I had already embraced.
Honestly, this part of the journey was truly awful due to the chemo itself. There was a two-week period in early, freezing cold, snowy January when I started a new chemotherapy drug, which was one of the strongest of all chemotherapies. After my first dose, I could barely move, I was so exhausted and medicated. I even thought to myself that I couldn’t imagine being able to survive (forget thrive!) through the final three treatments if they were anything like this first one. Thankfully, my body adjusted, and I was able to function more normally after subsequent doses. There were definitely moments where I had to dig deep, and really, really believe that everything would be ok.
At the same time, when covid was spreading but shelter at home had not been issued yet, my responsibilities outside of my home were significant. My real challenge then was navigating a covid world while in a body going through cancer treatment.
In fall of 2019, we launched our new women’s leadership offering, Prouty i•will (igniting women in leadership and life), a cohort leadership program igniting women to purpose. As a co-leader of this program, I was one of the facilitators of our in-person retreat in February (this was pre-zoom era), and needed to decide if I could participate as a facilitator knowing how fatigued I would be from treatment, and that I could be at an increased health risk with covid cases rising.
And so I leapt… into attending and facilitating the retreat, and modifying my participation as it made sense. Thanks to the amazing support of the Prouty i•will team, I was able to facilitate as well as take naps throughout the session when fatigue from chemo hit, and eat meals in my room to decrease unnecessary exposure to germs. The team’s willingness to help me in significant ways, allowed for me to not skip a beat in facilitating and participating in our retreat.
And while it was not what I had envisioned, this experience was even more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. With my faith continuing to push me forward, I knew that as long as I was careful, I would be ok. Having already gone through 14 chemo treatments by this time, I had proof of my strength and God’s grace, and the promise of the help of others if and when I needed it. To have the opportunity to authentically connect with everyone during the retreat was so important to me, and the energy and support we all provided to each other fed our spirits during a time we all really needed it.
I now had good measures of fight, faith, joy, and strength from which to draw. And, I would need all of them as the year progressed.
SPRING 2020 – George Floyd
“It is our responsibility to learn and grow.”
I often think of my father, and his father (we called him Pop-Pop or “GP” for Grandpa), and even more so now as our nation reckons with its past, and evolves into a better version of itself.
My grandfather knew and always reminded my brothers and sisters of our ancestors and history, and the critical importance of family, community, and education. My grandfather was a marine, graduated from Howard University, and worked 2 full-time jobs for 35 years: he was a special education teacher by day, and then worked night shifts with the US Postal Service. Pop Pop passed away almost 12 years ago, at 84 years young.
My father followed closely in his footsteps, he was graduate of Kent State, retired from a 38 year career with State Farm, provider and leader of our family, and passed away last year of pancreatic cancer after a life well-lived. I actually had a chemotherapy treatment on the exact day of his death, one year later. Life sometimes asks much of us, and that was one of those days.
I tell their stories because I want to share their humanity and legacy. My brother, uncles, cousins, nephews, colleagues, and friends are worthy and valuable, they matter and deserve a chance to build legacies like my father and grandfather. As I see the images of the many black men who have been murdered, not even given the chance, I am reminded there is much work to be done.
I briefly wondered if it would have been easier to process and heal from George Floyd’s murder and the social unrest that followed if I were around only people of color with similar life experiences to my own. However, I realized and know for sure where I had been planted at Prouty, is exactly where I was supposed to be at that time. I believe growth springs from pain and trials, not from comfort. For sure, none of us were very comfortable, but we were growing. We were having the hard discussions, willing to stay in discomfort to transform past it.
And so I leapt… into doing the personal hard work of more deeply understanding others, antiracism, whiteness, and the history of this country, while collectively navigating complex discussions around race with a work team that includes only one person of color, me.
And while I would have preferred a Spring free of covid and social unrest after fighting cancer all winter, I was given a more meaningful experience. I was instead offered the opportunity and space for reflection, learning and personal development. Of the entire year, this was the most difficult period of time for me. Not only were my spirit, mind and body exhausted from cancer treatment, I also acutely felt the heavy weight of racism and how it could potentially end my life, or worse, Kennedy’s, my 15 year old daughter.
Kennedy is lovely and amazing. As a parent, I believe one of my responsibilities is to protect sweet Kennedy from harm. In retrospect, I may have protected her too well early in life, and she actually wrote an entire 8th grade speech about how her innocence was shattered with the murder of Philando Castille.
She felt that we as parents had not shared enough with her about the ugly side of racism. And maybe that is true. However, when is the best time to tell your child that others may treat her badly, hurt or kill her, based on how she looks? That timing isn’t so easy to determine. Sadly though, it is a discussion every black parent must have at some point, or run the risk of harm or death to their child at the hands of someone who doesn’t care to know their story, or see their humanity.
Still I have hope, this time and reckoning feel different. My faith tells me we are all here on this earth at this time for a reason, and I trust we are transforming as individuals, communities, and nations into a more beautiful world for us all.
SUMMER 2020 – Back to Life
“Always keep the faith!”
As I write this piece, summer is coming to a close, and the first day of school is right around the corner. Through a series of small miracles, I have completed the first phase of treatment, and am now in the monitoring phase as I march towards the 5-year remission mark.
Most importantly, I am full of unbelievable joy. I know it may not make sense to some, but it makes sense to me. Every leap I have taken has brought some pain, and left much more grace and joy in its place.
I am able to completely focus on real life, after 9 months of appointment after appointment, surgery and recovery, and daily radiation trips to Rochester. My hair and nails are growing back, and I am not that much worse for the wear. I am alive and the cancer is gone!
The challenge now is to build a client portfolio in an economic recession, raise a healthy black teen girl in a time of deep racial division, make sure cancer stays in the rearview mirror, and do everything I can to keep covid at bay.
And so I leap… into the unknown full of joy and hope. Patience and grace. Kindness and love. Strength and learning. Using the evidence from this year as a foundation, knowing everything will be ok, and all will be well.
Full of faith.
As I think about my journey, I am reminded how our Prouty values of Generosity, Curiosity and Adventure thread through my experiences. We are always asking our clients to stretch themselves and their teams, knowing once they stretch, there is no going back.
I have stretched, we have stretched, there is no going back. Prouty Project has been with me through every minute of this journey (every single person) and I am incredibly, profoundly grateful. The Prouty Family is small, mighty, and full of heart and love. No one should ever fight alone, and with Prouty by my side, that was never even an option.
As you reflect on your own journeys and within yourselves, families, teams and organizations, my hope is for you to:
- Be generous with yourself and others – be vulnerable and know when to ask for and receive help, show up when people need you.
- Be adventurous and take each challenge head-on – we are all capable and prepared.
- Be curious about everything – it is our responsibility to learn, grow and evolve.
- Keep the faith, always!
Take care and be well.
|Listen in as Adrienne shares her journey with radio host Laurie Fitz here:
Part 1: August 15
Part 2: August 22