City of Crookston finance director forges ahead during cancer battle.
First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
I was born and raised in Central Wisconsin. I am married with two children, one adult child and one toddler, along with a granddaughter. I have now lived in Crookston almost six years.
I graduated from high school and then attended the University of Wisconsin – Stout from which I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. After college I worked in a financial institution as a trust associate and as an accountant for a manufacturing company. I began my governmental accounting career in 2001 with Anoka County one of the northern counties in the seven county metro-area. I started as an accounting technician at the County in Public Services Administration serving the Highway department. After approximately four years I was ready to move on to the next challenge. I applied for and received a position with the City of Ramsey as the Accountant. After a few years I had an opportunity to obtain a position with the City of Oak Grove as the Accountant. For personal reasons I then moved to Indiana, while I lived there I worked at the City of South Bend working on the budget and annual report.
Once again for personal reasons, I began looking for Finance Director position’s back in the State of Minnesota because I like the climate and the atmosphere and feel comfortable here. When I first saw the advertisement for the City of Crookston I saw the population and the budget was the size I felt I would be able to do a good job and be effective. I was offered the position and moved here.
OK, so you were profiled in a previous edition of Community Connections, not long after you came here to be the City of Crookston Finance Director. I reached out to you again early this year asking if you’d consider being profiled again. You have a fairly high-profile job and it’s been apparent that you’re battling some significant health issues right now. I wondered if you might want to share a little bit with our readers, and you graciously and enthusiastically agreed to. So, can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been dealing with, and continue to deal with?
As with most people there are ups and downs in life. I was having quite a few years of up and then all of a sudden there came the down year. Most people are aware because I belong to community groups and am active in the community, but in June of last year I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.
What was the first thing that went through your mind when you received your diagnosis?
My first thought when I received my diagnosis was who would take care of my family, because I was not ready to leave them. I have a wonderful loving husband that I want to grow old with. My daughter and granddaughter live in town and I still talk with her almost every day even if our schedules do not allow face to face visits but she would be all alone. I want to watch my son grow up and become a wonderful, handsome, active man. Then I became angry because I have been the first in my family for a lot of things, attending and graduating college being one, and now the first to get a cancer diagnosis.
Unfortunately, that was the why me moment and then I was ready to fight.
Where have you turned, or who have you turned to for strength when times have been at their most difficult and excruciating?
My husband is my strength and was always willing to give me a hug or the verbal kick in the butt that I needed to continue the fight.
As you’ve gone through various stages of your treatment and dealt with various side effects, and you’ve been at so many city council and committee meetings and had to continue on with your duties and in your important role in the city operation, have there been moments where you’ve just wanted to get up, walk out of the room and go home to curl up in bed? Or is it good to stay busy and focused on things that make you feel at least a semblance of normalcy, even when people are grinding your gears?
Before June was over I had a surgery to remove the tumor, because of the size and location there were not many options, it had to be a mastectomy. I had lymph nodes removed and the tumor was removed. Thankfully, the tumor had not spread to other areas of the body and the surgery was successful. Many women who receive the diagnosis of breast cancer are older and because I am slightly younger, I had some additional testing done and it was discovered I had an aggressive tumor and was at a higher risk of the cancer returning; therefore, I had to have chemotherapy.
My first round of chemo was in August, which came at the same time the weekly detailed budget sessions with City Council began. That was extremely challenging. I was scheduling the chemo sessions for the day after City Council so as to not interfere with my job responsibilities as best I could. Unfortunately, I had a severe allergic reaction to one of the medications and had to switch to a different treatment medication that has the nick name red death (that is not a very promising nick name). My first round of “red death” had to be done in a timely manner so I had to have that treatment on a Monday and it happened to be a Council meeting night. Because it was during the budget talks I had to attend the meeting, and I can honestly say I was not up to par for that meeting, but held it together the best I could. I wanted to go home and curl up in a ball and make the world go away, which is what happened about 12 hours after the following treatments. I usually had to take 1 to 2 days off and rest. I had treatments through the end September so the preliminary levy was set during my treatment time. I was very concerned about Chemo brain because I need to know my numbers so well during budget time. Looking back that whole budget time is kind of a blur. Once my treatments were completed I did take a vacation with my family, including my parents. I was not as active on that trip as I wanted to be but we were all celebrating the fact that I would live to see another year, CANCER FREE.
I have had other surgeries since my first one and it does take longer to recover from each one compared to the first one. Every time I start to feel more normal and ready to do more the next medical procedure comes up and slows me down. I will have doctors visit’s and procedures for the next several years on a regular basis to ensure it has not returned but I do question every ache and pain that comes along and worry it has come back. Even though it is probably just aging.
For me I felt it was best to keep working and busy. It would be very easy to fall into a depression staying at home and not forcing yourself to go and do things. I had been fitted for a wig; however, my scalp did not handle the wig very well and I could not wear it regularly. It then became apparent to most people that I was going through something because I had a hat or scarf always on versus my pony tail which most people were accustomed to.
A longtime City of Crookston staff member a while back told me that working for the City is like “one big family.” I suppose a lot of workplaces kind of seem like that, but have you witnessed that family dynamic in action as you’ve approached your cancer battle and worked your way through your cancer battle?
I am a private person and try to be supportive to others versus thinking of myself, and being the one that needed the support was new to me. Working for the City is like working for one big family and everyone was so supportive. City Hall employees were willing to listen to me without judgement and with encouragement. Before my first surgery they even put together a care package of items for me to make the hospital stay and recovery more comfortable. Since my husband also works for the City in a different area almost everyone knew what was going on most of the time. At work I leaned on Shannon, Kathy, and Angie the most during all of this, but I was grateful to everyone for being so helpful and considerate.
Do you find yourself appreciating the “little things” more, given the health challenges presented to you?
I have never taken life for granted and have always appreciated the little things but I do tend to hug more than I used to and try to make sure everyone knows that I appreciate or love them because you never really do know when your time will come.