"The past few years have brought challenges to my life that I never could have dreamed of. Marriage, five children, a professional career and breast cancer all by the age of 37. It wasn't easy, but I found strength through faith, family and friends"
-Kandi, The first Courage is Contagious scholarship recipient
Over the past two weeks my great friend and 5ive for Women magazine creator Jen Theisen and myself, with the advisement and emotional support (yes, we needed the emotional support), of a few others had to make the decision to choose from many incredible women to receive the Madeline Island Retreat scholarship. It was borderline comedic how often I had to pull out the Kleenex box. I remember thinking that surely I won't cry as I read through this pile of incredible stories again. But each time a different fragment of a story spoke to me and I was a blithering mess.
Without a doubt every nominee was deserving. Every nomination spoke to us, and as we narrowed it down we agreed that the concept of rewarding a courageous woman with a healing retreat opportunity was......well, contagious. We only hope (legs crossed in lotus) that each year we can offer more and more of these scholarships.
Our first recipient is Kandi. Her story spoke to me personally as a survivor. Even though having cancer is not a pre-req for receiving this award, I am acutely aware of the battle a woman faces dealing with cancer. The emotional side of it is multiplied when your are the mother of young children who mean everything to you (and you to them). Her sister-in-law Tina wrote the nomination:
The person I would like to nominate is Kandi, my sister-in-law. Kandi has inspired me in ways that words cannot describe. I can only comment by saying that I feel I have become a changed person by watching her these past few years. She is honestly one of the most “courageous, inspiring women “I know.
Kandi just turned 40 this past December. We were grateful to see her celebrate this milestone. Kandi was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at age 37. Kandi’s cancer did spread beyond her breasts. As a result she endured a double mastectomy with lymph node removal, chemotherapy, radiation, breast reconstructive surgery, and a complete hysterectomy.
Kandi would say her most precious accomplishment is her five children ranging in age from 7 to 13. She is also the wife to my brother and the Director of Special Education and Student Services for the Wrightstown School District, located right outside of Green Bay. During her battle with cancer she continued on with her full-time career. She had to persevere because it was also at that time when my brother lost his job for a year, adding additional stress to an already “scary and stressful reality”.
Kandi’s faith and her belief in God has been a pillar of strength for her. She and her family are active members of St. Nicholas Parish. She uses that strength to continue to help others through difficult times. Her faith and her personal experience with cancer recently empowered my Father who was just diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer. Kandi has helped my Father with his personal battle in ways that other family members could not. She was able to provide hope to him from a place that none of us have ever been to. We have been so grateful to have her provide that comfort for him. My Father tears up every time he speaks of how she is helping him.
In addition to motherhood, working, and maintaining a very active household, Kandi also coaches her only daughter’s soccer and softball team. Kandi and my brother, Troy, have always valued health and wellness and they instill that value into their children. Having four boys and a daughter, they are very active members of a booster club that supports their children in soccer, softball, baseball, football, basketball and wrestling. Kandi loves the outdoors and values the time spent with her Mother and Stepfather in Door County and at their lake home. In addition to staying active, Kandi also tries to eat healthy. She is a vegetarian, and she is constantly researching healthy foods/diets that will promote health and wellness.
Kandi states that one of the professionals that has helped her most (and is still helping her) is her Integrative Medicine Clinician/Counselor. She has been seeing this clinician since her diagnosis of cancer and this clinician has been encouraging Kandi to begin a yoga practice. Kandi recently told me, “Now is the time”. She wants to learn more about yoga and begin her own practice. I cannot think of a better way for Kandi to learn about the benefits of yoga and wellness-- if she were selected to spend a few days with Amy Annis on Madeline Island.
I would love to be a part of providing this once in a life time opportunity to Kandi because she has given so much to me and others. As I said earlier, I am a changed person because of her. She has provided me with hope to know that when times get unbearably tough, there is an inner strength that knows no bounds. She is the living proof of that.
The picture I am including is a picture of Kandi handing out Dilly Bars at our family’s annual Easter Egg Hunt. She was the winner of the Family’s March Madness NCAA Bracket Standings. She actually beat out all of my brothers and the other men in the competition. She spent her winnings on buying Dilly Bars and bringing dessert for our entire family.
I think this picture (above) captures many of Kandi’s qualities, such as her generosity, love for children, and of course her tenacity to persevere and “come out on top”.
Tina will be joining Kandi for our Fall Yoga and Wellness Retreat on September 23rd-26 on Madeline Island. It will be, as Kandi so eloquently put it, "a celebration of the spirit of women." There are spaces still available for this retreat.
In closing, I am sharing Kandi's words as she was told of her upcoming adventure:
"I feel so honored and blessed to be one of the recipients of The Courage is Contagious scholarship. What a wonderful celebration of the spirit of woman. I accept this on behalf of all those women who went before me offering advice, support, tears and trials. I couldn't have made it through diagnosis, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation without all of them. It has taught me that we all have an inner warrior. I agree, the Courage is Contagious! I strongly believe that it is now my calling to help those that come after me offering support, experience and motivation. When I am on Madeline Island finding my inner peace, I will keep all of those who are fighting the battle, those that are winning the battle and those that have lost their battle in my thoughts and prayers. You continue to motivate me to live each day to the fullest and make the time to remain healthy"
It will be an honor to share the beauty of Madeline with Kandi and the soon to be announced other recipients. I have the distinct joy and pleasure of surprising another nominee tomorrow night (I am sooooooooo excited!) Feelin a bit Ed McMahon like with these great surprises. Stay tuned.