I didn’t know if I’d live to see 31. Just after turning 30, I was blindsided by crippling nerve pain. Life-altering, disabling pain – I was living every moment in torture – extreme, constant pain that would continuously and unpredictably shoot lightning throughout my body. I was afraid to move. Afraid to be awake. Afraid to live. I sat in a chair, staring at the wall, and cried for months, enduring test after test, fighting my way to see doctor after doctor – all who shrugged their shoulders. Said maybe it was a genetic issue. Maybe it wasn’t. Said maybe it was in my head. (It definitely wasn’t.) Take more drugs. See more doctors.
What they really meant was – we don’t understand and we don’t/can’t/won’t help. Fortunately, I found someone who did understand and who could help – a physical therapist who saved my life. She was the first to say – you can heal. She helped me leave my chair, dry my tears, live my life again, be a mother to my daughter again. She gave me hope so that I could imagine that one day, I might get through this. Without that one person – that one light who listened and said “I’m here for you, and I care” – I would not be alive today.
As I started my very long road to recovery, I learned about the Dear Jack Foundation. My first non-medical trip in over four years was to see Andrew McMahon play for the first time, in Des Moines, Iowa in June of 2015. It’s a 3.5-hour drive on any normal day, but that day it lasted over 5 hours. Constantly stopping as I stretched and cried at rest stops while my husband loudly voiced concerns throughout the trip that we should turn around.
But we made it – and it was a turning point. I couldn’t quite articulate why at the time, but I instantly felt a deep connection to the music. And I learned Andrew’s story that night and asked more about DJF throughout the months after we saw that fateful show. There had been no help for me when I was at my worst – I was on disability from work, paying thousands in out-of-pocket medical costs, and grateful for the small family support system that I had. I found my source of help – the chance to overcome my nightmare. But what if I could use my second chance at life to help others in my own age group going through their own life-altering medical journeys? This realization was the most empowering and rewarding thought I’d had in years. Maybe I had traveled my road for a reason.
I started fundraising. And volunteering. Whenever and however I could. Staying up until 2 AM night after night to raise silent auction items. Constantly asking my friends and family for their contributions. Ensuring I asked for my company’s generous match each year. As long as I was getting better, I could do more and more.
As if the universe was confirming that I was on the right path, I found friends who were as passionate to make an impact as me. Over the years, we’ve raised around $55k+ and counting. In 2018, it was almost $13K alone. I met my dear friends and team members Kelly and Bob at the last Dear Jack golf tournament – it only seemed fitting that we partner to raise funds together. We had friends from across the country, working on events and asks, together, including my Minnesota partner in event crime Kortney, her bestie Sarah in Wisconsin, Jade in DC crushing the charity spin classes, Yvonne and Junika rocking the creative merch sales in CA, and Jenny of Hot Sauce fame in Chicago . It was a truly wonderful thing.
In May 2019, we all gathered in my living room to hear Andrew play an intimate, candle-lit show on my 1970’s Wurlitzer piano. We never expected to win anything – ever – and it was a beautiful way to celebrate all that we’d accomplished and would continue to do. I heard my favorite song – one that’s never been played live – in my own home, as my husband held my hand, my daughter smiled at me from across the room and my soon-to-be-born-baby danced and kicked to the music. If you’d told my 30-year-old self that not only would I be alive and nearly pain free in 2019, but that I would have had all of these experiences because I turned my own struggles into something bigger than me…there would have been disbelief.
So Jack, that’s my story. Everyone has one. But I now believe that it’s what we do with our experiences – with the battles and wars that we’ve faced, and eventually won – that truly matters. I encourage everyone who’s taken the time to read this to take an extra 10 seconds and also read about how you can get involved with the Dear Jack Foundation. Donate money. Donate time. Ask your friends and family and colleagues and favorite strangers to donate money and time. To provide hope and understanding to young people struggling like I struggled.
We’ve now added our dear friends Lauren, Elliott and Amy to a fundraising team this year – our successes inspired more to join us, which is what we hope happens across the country as our collective fundraising villages continue to expand. Because there’s an entire community of adolescent and young adult patients and survivors out there whose lives we can truly affect. Let’s do it, together. Raise your voice. Use the battles that you’ve faced to propel you into something better – and make a difference for someone else. I’m right there with you.
Thanks for all that you do for so many. Grateful to partner with you on this continued journey.