2020: When Everything Crumbled
(and I’m not even talking about the pandemic!)
For the last 22 years, I’ve made a living helping businesses tell their stories. Storytelling connects us, inspires us, and opens us up to new ideas and experiences. I love helping others tell their stories, and I’ve gone to the mat again and again to make sure those stories get shared in all the right places with all the right audiences. It’s my passion and my joy to support my clients in this way.
Then 2020 happened, and my own story demanded my attention. In 12 months, I managed to hit every standard plot point of a very dramatic novel—from the death of both my parents, to a murder trial (not my own!), to a rare cancer diagnosis, to a freaking global pandemic. The only thing missing was a hot-steamy affair with the dog walker (maybe I should get a dog?)! I take consolation in the idea that perhaps I can be the muse for James Patterson’s next bestseller (or maybe a Netflix series? Do you think Julia Louis-Dreyfus is available?).
The bottom line is that 2020 was hard—really, really hard—and I see that it’s now time to share my story, in the hopes that it will inspire you to find and share yours. That is, after all, how we connect, inspire each other, and continue to grow.
A Death in the Family
Before I’d ever even heard of COVID-19, my 2020 story began when my beautiful mom passed away in January, at the age of 82. She passed away peacefully surrounded by her family in her own home. Going through this experience I found a peace that I have never experienced before, knowing my mom is Rejoicing In Paradise (RIP).
On the heels of this profound experience, I was stunned—along with everyone else—when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the whole world shut down, practically overnight. Businesses were forced to close their doors as we were asked to quarantine at home for an unspecified period of time. This sudden shutdown caused many of my long-standing clients to scale back on their publicity and PR efforts, resulting in a 63% loss in business from 2019.
I spent the next three months buried in paperwork as I applied for many forms of COVID relief, while simultaneously trying to figure out a new strategy to reignite my business.
Plot Twist! It’s the C-word!
All thoughts of business strategy were immediately abandoned when I was diagnosed in June with a very rare form of bone marrow cancer, called Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia, AND (because apparently one life-threatening illness wasn’t dramatic enough for my 2020-novel-in-the-making) a blood disorder called Hyper-Viscosity Syndrome.
Over the course of the summer I learned that keeping a positive attitude was key, as I spent 21 days in the hospital, received 2 blood transfusions, 9 plasmapheresis treatments, 5 chemo and antibody replacement infusions, and dealt with numerous side effects and complications that go along with this diagnosis. Neutropenic fever landed me an extra 2 nights in the hospital on the COVID-19 floor. Needless to say, I wasn’t having a good time.
My Parents Are Reunited
On September 1st, just 7 months after my mom passed away, and 5 days before their 62nd wedding anniversary, my Dad too passed on. Though he died of complications from West Nile (which he contracted in 2015), my sisters and I believe he just did not want to celebrate an Anniversary without his “beautiful bride” – as he called our mom over the years.
I spent the fall—in between chemo treatments—cleaning out my parents’ home with my sisters, hosting multiple estate sales, and selling their house.
Over Christmas, I lost a very dear 90-year-old friend and advisor, Beverly, who was like a Grandma to me. So, my 2020 began and ended the same way, with the death of a loved one and an opportunity to reflect on the people and experiences that matter most.
Lessons of Generosity, Boundaries, & Courage
So, what have I learned as I reflect on my 2020 future-Netflix-show? I’ve learned that people are remarkably empathetic and generous when you give them the chance to be. Asking for help does not come naturally to me, but 2020 left me with no other choice, and I was blown away by the emotional and financial support I received. The abundance of calls, cards, flowers, and monetary gifts uplifted and inspired me each day through my journey.
I learned that it is okay to step away from work in order to heal. My plate wasn’t just full, it was overflowing, and my body and soul simply could not handle it. I was forced to confront that I am not Wonder Woman. I finally slowed down and adjusted my focus toward my own physical and spiritual healing.
And now, as I return to my beloved work in public relations (Oh! I’m in remission! Did I forget to tell you that part?!), I find that I am both more grounded and more fearless. I’m setting and honoring new boundaries that allow me to do the work I love while still nurturing my wellbeing. And, now that I’ve gone to the mat with cancer and grief, there’s nothing I can’t conquer. I’m ready to go to the mat with any challenge that comes my (or my clients’) way.
It’s Your Turn Now!
So what’s your 2020 story? What did you learn and how did you evolve? Did you evolve so hard people need to get to know you again, too? I’d love to hear from you.