Tag Archives: survivor

Pride in Omaha, America, and Yes, Even Canada

June 28, 2018 by

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Pick of the Week—Saturday, June 30: It’s Pride weekend in Omaha and there’s plenty going on. This year’s Heartland Pride Festival is at Baxter Arena, with the parade happening across the river in downtown Council Bluffs this Saturday. The festival will feature a free, outdoor area with games, karaoke, and more. But for a mere $12 ($18 day of show), you can head inside and check out the vendors, talk-back sessions, activities with the Pride Alliance, Kids Corner, amazing entertainment, and more! There’s also a Youth Pride event for 13-20 year olds at Baxter on Friday evening. At this special event, there will be live music, mentorship, an awards ceremony, and the creation of a time capsule. To find out all the details, head here.

Thursday, June 28: No time on the weekends for shopping the farmers markets? Get to Rockbrook Village Organic Farmers Market instead, happening every Thursday evening this summer from 4-7 p.m. You’ll find grass-fed meats, free-range eggs, all-natural soaps and beauty products, and more. And you can just stop by on your way home from work, rather than dragging yourself out of the house on a weekend morning. For a full list of local, responsible vendors, click here.

Friday, June 29: Metro Credit Union Celebrates America this Friday with a free concert and fireworks show at Memorial Park featuring The Confidentials, Starship, and Survivor. Don’t fool around. This free show packs in the die-hard fans and casual revelers alike, so parking can be hard to find if you don’t have the eye of the tiger. Planning on traveling across the miles? Maybe grab a Lyft instead so you can fully enjoy this rock music extravaganza. See the full schedule here.

Saturday, June 30: Love all things lavender? Take a little drive over to Thurman, Iowa, for the Lavender Bloom Festival 2018 at Moonstone Lavender Gardens. For just $5, you can make a wreath, a fairy house, enjoy some lavender fare and refreshments, and dance with the fireflies. Live music from singer/songwriter Jack Miller, a food truck, and wine from Sugar Clay Winery make for a relaxing, enjoyable, fragrant evening. Learn more here.

Sunday, July 1: Catch 10 bands for only $8 at the seventh annual Canada Day at The Waiting Room Lounge. Canadian music will abound, and of course, beer. Canadian snacks will also be available, namely poutine from The Dire Lion food truck. Best of all, it’s for a good cause, ya know? This is a benefit for the Siena/Francis House, so don’t be a hoser. Head out and enjoy all things Canuck this Sunday for a good cause. (Please note: I restrained from using the word “eh?” despite a deep urge to do so.) Click here for more info.

Milton Kleinberg

November 5, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a child in Poland, Milton Kleinberg got caught up in a little known chapter of the Holocaust when he and his family were among Jews exiled to Soviet labor camps. The forced journey took them from occupied Poland to the siege at Stalingrad to the vast wastelands of Siberia. To be uprooted, thousands of miles from home, was awful, but it also meant being beyond the reach of death camps.

The 77-year-old native of Poland and longtime Omaha resident endured many hardships. Forced to travel on foot and by train, he was confined to warehouses, barracks, and institutions. He witnessed starvation, disease, suicides, beatings, executions. He weathered illness, injuries, predators. The epic ordeal spanned thousands of miles and many years. He experienced things no child should face. To defend himself and others he took actions no one should have to take.

His saga continued after the war in displaced person (DP) camps. After reinventing himself in Milwaukee, he went years not saying anything about his odyssey, not even to his wife and children. After moving to Omaha in his middle-years he still kept quiet. Keeping silent is not uncommon among the survivor community, for whom the trauma of loss is difficult to relive.

“When I came to America I made a pledge to myself I was going to put this behind me, that I was not going to dwell on the past, and that I was going to start a new life,” Kleinberg says. “My whole attitude was that the past was the past and I didn’t care to look back.”

Then circumstances conspired to break his silence. His grandchildren visited Holocaust sites and pestered him with questions. In applying for Social Security benefits he discovered his birthdate was different than what he thought it was. A genealogical search turned up two step-sisters, with whom he shared a father. The women posed more questions.

Always alert to anti-Semitism and to events in Israel, which he’s visited several times, he’s grown concerned by the rise of militant, extremist elements around the world. Finally, he decided, he should recount his story. In 2010 he self-published Bread or Death. He gave it to friends and relatives as well as clients of his successful business, Senior Market Sales Inc., which employs more than 170 people.

This past year he expanded the book with the help of professionals, including Institute for Holocaust Education staff who developed a teacher’s guide, a glossary, study questions, and historical background sections. IHE develops Holocaust curriculum for schools state-wide.

Released in August, the new edition is available to schools and youth-serving organizations as an educational tool. IHE executive director Liz Feldstern says Kleinberg’s made a valuable contribution to understanding the Holocaust survivor experience.

“Bread or Death adds another important voice to understanding a narrative that affected millions of people in millions of different ways,” Feldstern says. “Anne Frank has become the voice of those who went into hiding. Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi are the voices of Auschwitz. Gerda Weissman Klein is the voice of the death march. Hadassah Rosensaft is the voice of the DP camps. Perhaps Milt Kleinberg will be the voice of those deported to Soviet labor camps.”

The memoir completes an obligation Milt felt to himself and his family.

“I wrote the book as a legacy for my children, grandchildren, and siblings that were born after the war,” he says. “Everyone had bits of information on what happened during the war. I was the only one with all the pieces of information. I could connect all the dots. So, I have written it all down.”

“Milt has fulfilled his responsibility admirably to share his story and break a lifetime of silence so that others can learn from that history…and hopefully not repeat it,” Feldstern says.

Though reticent most of his life about his own experience, he’s never shied from confronting anti-Semitism. While residing in Milwaukee he actively opposed a neo-Nazi group there through the Concerned Jewish Citizens of Wisconsin, a group he helped form.

“We decided we were going to respond to the Nazis rather than stand silent or lay down. Some of us had learned hard, tragic lessons and sacrificed far too much to allow these haters to get a foothold in our city, in our neighborhood.”

It wasn’t the first time he stood up. He and his wife, Marsha, co-hosted a Milwaukee radio program. They bought the air-time for themselves in order to present and comment on Jewish news.

His book is a cautionary tale of what occurred as the world slept. It may help ensure another holocaust doesn’t happen in this new era of hate.

“After what happened to me and my family and to millions of Jews in the war, I simply would not keep silent about things I perceived to be wrong.”

Ultimately, Bread or Death is a testament to how a life well-lived is more powerful than any retribution.

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Green Thumb – Pink Dreams

November 3, 2014 by
Photography by Sara Lemke

October will be loaded with events that recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Project Pink’d supporter Karen Kruse will certainly make at least a showing at a select event or three, but she’ll manage her time to leave room for the most important of tasks—tending to her pink-pinker-pinkest garden.

“I call it my Survivor’s Garden,” Kruse says of the front-yard space that is the jewel of Blondo Street between Country Club Avenue and 52nd Street.

Kruse finished planting her garden in 2010, exactly one year to the day after her first chemotherapy treatment. There’s only one rule in this garden—it has to be pink. Besides featuring a monochromatic array of plantings in the hue forever associated with the iconic ribbon that will be everywhere to be seen this October and beyond, Kruse carries the theme into patio furniture, planters, and surrounding tchotchkes.

But there’s more.

“I’ll buy anything pink in products where a portion of the proceeds go to the battle against breast cancer,” says the woman who sports a shoulder tattoo with the words “Fight like a girl” accompanied by the familiar pink ribbon. Which answers the question behind her pink gardening gloves, shears, pail…heck, even her garbage cans.

Kruse, who is featured in the just-released, pin-up-girl-style calendar that is a fundraiser for Project Pink’d, says that her garden is so much more than a mere hobby.

“This garden is an important part of my recovery,” Kruse explains. “This is about an attitude that is more than just surviving. When I’m working in the garden I am thriving. I want to be more than a survivor. I want to thrive.”

Just like her pretty-in-pink riot of color planted along Blondo Street.

Visit projectpinkd.org for more information.

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Getting Through the Emotional 
and Physical Challenges of Breast Cancer

September 24, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Even when it’s over, it’s not over, says one cancer survivor, who recently completed her treatment. The emotional turmoil and lingering fear of what’s going to happen next—Am I really cured? Will it come back?—continue to haunt many breast cancer survivors during and well beyond the treatment process.

The fear was so overwhelming for 39-year-old Melissa Holm that she decided to have a double mastectomy. This was despite her doctor’s assurance that the cancer cells were limited to her right breast and the chance of the cancer spreading to the other breast was very slim.

“I didn’t want to live with that fear for the rest of my life,” says Holm, a mother of two young girls and a boy. “I just wanted them to take everything and start from scratch. I know others who have had a lumpectomy, and they worry before every appointment. My diagnosis came after a year of watching. I didn’t want to continue that waiting game.”

“The number of women choosing double mastectomy over a lumpectomy has doubled from about 3 percent to nearly 6 percent over the last 10 years,” says Margaret Block, M.D., a medical oncologist at Nebraska Cancer Specialists. “We don’t really know why, but a lot of it may stem from the fear and anxiety following a cancer diagnosis.”

The fear and shock of a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, notes Patti Higginbotham, APRN, AOCN, nurse practitioner with the Alegent Creighton Health Breast Health Center. “The first thought of 90 percent of women is that they are going to die.”

Even after getting through the initial shock, women still have to endure another year or more of treatment, which may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and breast reconstructive surgery.

“The number of women choosing double mastectomy over a lumpectomy has doubled from about 3 percent to nearly 6 percent over the last 10 years.” – Margaret Block, M.D., medical oncologist, Nebraska Cancer Specialists

For Holm, dealing with the loss of her breasts and then her hair were two of the biggest emotional challenges during treatment. “You go through a period where you don’t even feel like a woman anymore,” she says.

Then, there was the constant fatigue, malaise, and missing out on her children’s events, like plays, basketball and volleyball games, and school meetings. “I slept a lot on the weekends following chemotherapy,” recalls Holm. “My children barely saw me the entire weekend. Thankfully, my husband was there to take charge of the kids, but still care for me. He was my rock.”

While a cancer diagnosis is never easy, there are several steps women can take to help ease the physical and emotional impact of a breast cancer diagnosis, cancer experts say.

One of the most important of these is the support of family and friends. “Women who try to do it alone usually don’t do as well physically or emotionally,” says Higginbotham. “Part of our makeup as women is that we need to talk about it. If you don’t have someone that you can lean on, we encourage women to seek support through a cancer support group, our social worker, nurse navigators, or other members of our staff. It’s also very important that you have a health care person you can connect with. If you don’t have that partnership, then maybe you have the wrong provider.”

“I couldn’t have made it without the support of family and friends,” notes Holm. “There is strength in numbers. They gave me strength through some of the most difficult times. I had to lean on so many people. I couldn’t have made it without all of their help.”

“Women who are informed and have the facts also do better and make better decisions,” says Block. “Faster is not always better. Once you get the diagnosis, you need to take some time to get through the initial shock and then ask questions and do some research. Otherwise, women tend to make decisions based on emotions rather than facts.”

“…we’ve found that physical activity will help with the emotional [and] the physical side effects.” – Patti Higginbotham, APRN, AOCN, nurse practitioner, Alegent Creighton Health Breast Health Center

“We encourage women to stay engaged throughout the entire process,” adds Higginbotham. “Ask a lot of questions, let us know if you are having side effects, ask what you can do for yourself, and seek support.”

Exercise, sleep, and good nutrition can also help with physical healing. “I remember the days when we suggested to women to take a leave of absence from work and to rest as much as they can,” says Higginbotham. “We’ve done a complete 360 since then. Now, we tell women to keep working if they want and to start exercising after surgery, as we’ve found that physical activity will help with the emotional [and] the physical side effects.”

Depression and anxiety are also “side effects” of breast cancer that should be discussed with your provider. “Women shouldn’t be afraid to seek additional help if they have a significant amount of depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Block.  “Sometimes, an anti-depressant can help a woman get through a really difficult time. While most women experience depression and anxiety following a cancer diagnosis, studies show that depression diminishes after treatment and recovery. Anxiety, however, can sometimes continue to linger.”

Life is getting back to normal for Holm. She completed breast reconstruction in late 2012 and says she is now focusing on turning her experience into a positive one by reaching out to others.

“I have volunteered to be a spokesperson for cancer survivors,” she says. “That regular interaction with other women and encouraging them to get mammograms or talking to women who are in the midst of treatment gives me strength.”

And she hopes to pass on some of that strength to others. “I’ve become a stronger person than I thought I was,” she says. “I have become more confident. I want to give other women hope—to let them know it isn’t easy, but you take one day at a time and count your blessings as you go.”

American Cancer Society

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Being “the official sponsor of birthdays” doesn’t mean the American Cancer Society shows up at parties to oversee the unwrapping of presents or the blowing out of candles on the cake. It’s a tougher sponsorship, one that requires copious amounts of fundraising, long-term research, and dedicated volunteers. Because they believe everyone deserves to have a full life without the looming threat of cancer.

“We are determined to make this cancer’s last century,” says Joy King, regional vice president of ACS in Omaha, who previously worked as a regional executive director in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. “We want to change the stats from two out of three people surviving today in the U.S. to three out of three surviving. As an organization, we have never been more ready to put the American Cancer Society out of business.”

The organization, which is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, holds 47 Relay for Life events, two galas, and a breast cancer walk each year in Nebraska. Besides the events, ACS also supports several awareness campaigns and collaborative efforts, including Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March and the Great American Smoke Out each November.

“We are determined to make this cancer’s last century…As an organization, we have never been more ready to put the American Cancer Society out of business.” – Joy King, regional vice president

“We’ve played a role in nearly every cancer research breakthrough in recent history,” adds King. “Each year, we help cancer patients get the help they need when they need it. For example, last year alone, we assisted more than a million people who called us for help providing free services, like a place to stay while traveling for treatment, rides to treatments, emotional support, and so much more.”

King knows from years of working with ACS that silence and a sit-back-and-watch attitude don’t finish the fight against cancer—it’s action that accomplishes these breakthroughs.

Another person who understands the importance of action is cancer survivor Michelle Belsaas. She was 20 when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “I thought cancer was an elderly person’s disease,” she says. “It came out of nowhere. There’s no known cause, so no one really knows how I got it. I was just reaching down to start the shower one day, and my neck cramped up…I went to the doctor, and he was like, ‘Oh, there’s a lump.’”

Belsaas had two cancerous nodules in her neck, but the doctor told her not to worry. After all, thyroid cancer is one of the lesser evils with about a 96 percent survival rate. “They took my thyroid out the next day, and then they gave me radioactive iodine to kill off the thyroid tissue.”

Although Belsaas didn’t need chemotherapy or lose her hair during her treatment, her thyroid cancer reared its ugly head once more about 10 years later while she was getting a check-up. This time, the treatment made her very sick and required her to be quarantined to a room in her home for weeks. “They had me withhold from foods with iodine for six weeks over Thanksgiving, which was really tough. You don’t realize how much food has iodine in it until you can’t eat it.”

“For once, I wasn’t alone. Knowing that there are people who go through the same thing and know how it feels to continually wait, it was like finding a family.” – Michelle Belsaas, cancer survivor

Today, Belsaas is 100 percent cancer-free. She still goes in for blood tests and ultrasounds every year to make sure her hormone therapy is regulated well—something that she will have to deal with for the rest of her life—but otherwise, everything is back to normal.

When she lived in Lincoln, Belsaas stumbled across Relay for Life. “I thought, ‘I’m a cancer survivor…let’s go!’” she says with a laugh. But when she did the survivor lap at her first Relay event, it suddenly dawned on her that what she had survived was a big deal. “I couldn’t emotionally handle it,” she says. “For once, I wasn’t alone. Knowing that there are people who go through the same thing and know how it feels to continually wait, it was like finding a family.” That’s when she decided ACS was the organization for her. She started getting more involved with ACS, volunteering her time and chairing events, like ACS’ newest fundraiser, Hope in the Heartland Gala.

This year’s Hope in the Heartland Gala takes place on July 19 at Stinson Park at Aksarben Village and is themed “An Evening at the Races.” In its first year, the event raised over $201,000. This year, ACS hopes to raise at least $300,000 through auctions, honorary luminaries, and more.

Connie Sullivan, who is chairing the gala alongside husband Tim and co-chairs Addie and Robert Hollingsworth, hopes to make this event the premier gala in Omaha. She says she can’t think of another charity that affects more people—both those suffering and those who know someone suffering.

Sullivan herself can attest to the effect cancer can have, as she lost both her parents to lung cancer in just three years’ time when she was in her early 20s. “I hadn’t ever been involved with anyone personally with cancer,” she says. “I was devastated. It happened so quickly between diagnosis and death.” Just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, she lost her aunt and her cousin to cancer as well.

“It’s hard to say no to a cause that you believe in…I lost four significant people in my life to cancer, so I can’t think of anything else that I’d have more passion for.” – Connie Sullivan, chair of Hope in the Heartland Gala

Following the overwhelming grief of losing loved ones to cancer, Sullivan got involved with ACS. She and Tim lived in Lincoln at the time, but they helped out with a jazz festival event for ACS. “We just called and said that we’d like to volunteer, and we started going to meetings. I love the cause. It’s hard to say no to a cause that you believe in…I lost four significant people in my life to cancer, so I can’t think of anything else that I’d have more passion for.”

Since moving to Omaha, Sullivan and her husband have only gotten more involved with ACS. “ACS does so many good things for people with cancer…Diagnosis is overwhelming. [ACS] is there to help.”

The American Cancer Society Omaha will host its annual Hope in the Heartland Gala on July 19 at Stinson Park at Aksarben Village. For more information, visit cancer.org or call 402-393-5800.

Young and Surviving Cancer

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It was just eight weeks after Amberly Wagner-Connolly had given birth to twins when she received the devastating news that she had breast cancer. She was just 29.

“I knew that life as I knew it would never be the same,” she recalls. “I was so shocked. Why me? Why would I have these beautiful kids and then so soon after find this out?”

As it turns out, the experience has come to be one of the most positive things that has happened in Wagner-Connolly’s life. It also became the springboard that put her goals in motion.

“It has helped guide me in my life and my career,” she says. “It opened my eyes to how much worse things could be and inspired me to do more with my life. Through cancer, I realized that I wanted to go into public health where I can help others. I know I am a better mom, friend, teacher, nurse, wife—everything. All of my roles have been affected in a positive way because of [cancer].”

On March 1, Wagner-Connolly celebrated her four-year anniversary of being a cancer survivor, and while she has managed to make it a positive in her life, she acknowledges that it was also one of the most difficult and trying times in her life.

“It has helped guide me in my life and my career. It opened my eyes to how much worse things could be and inspired me to do more with my life.” – Amberly Wagner-Connolly, survivor

The number of young adults who are diagnosed with cancer is very low, usually less than 5 percent, depending on the cancer, says Margaret Block, M.D., a medical oncologist at Nebraska Cancer Specialists. But for those who do receive the disturbing news, it can be a very emotional and stressful journey.

Like many young cancer patients, Wagner-Connolly experienced the challenges and emotional turmoil common among people her age. She struggled with the shock of being diagnosed at such an early age; she feared not being around to see her children grow up; and she grew weary from juggling two tiny twins and a four-year-old daughter when she could barely take care of herself.

Her family and friends and people she didn’t even know became her biggest supporters. Her husband worked nights and was able to help as much as he could during the day. Her mother and mother-in-law also provided help when they could and were there for emergencies.

Her co-workers at The Nebraska Medical Center held a fundraiser for her. Several friends of her sister who work at Lincoln Financial Group also organized a fundraiser/auction and raised more than $6,000 to help her with her medical bills.

This touched Wagner-Connolly greatly and was a turning point that helped her keep fighting. “It made me see the good in the world,” she says. “When complete strangers reached out to help me, I became determined that I had to do something with my life to make an impact like they had for me.”

“The number of young adults who are diagnosed with cancer is very low, usually less than 5 percent, depending on the cancer.” – Margaret Block, M.D., medical oncologist with Nebraska Cancer Specialists

Determined to not let her surgery and chemotherapy treatment slow her down, Wagner-Connolly was able to continue her master’s studies, finishing on her target date. She also kept a challenging work schedule as a nurse at The Nebraska Medical Center.

Being able to maintain some control over other parts of her life was important to her mental well-being. There were days during her six-month chemotherapy regimen when she felt as if she couldn’t go on. “I just had to take it day by day,” she recalls. “I did a lot of reality checks.”

Having goals—such as seeing her children grow up, completing her master’s degree, and wanting to live to make a difference in the world—fueled her will to keep fighting.

“Amberly did an amazing job,” says Peggy Jarrell, LCSW, OSW-C, a licensed clinical social worker and a certified oncology social worker at Nebraska Methodist Hospital, who worked with her during her treatment. “Motherhood can be stressful enough…put cancer on top of that, and you have a lot to deal with. [She] was able to maintain her own and still stay active in the outside world.”

Jarrell says it’s very important for cancer patients to establish a good support network of people and friends who can help them through this period. She also recommends having a designated support person who can accompany them at appointments and act as their second set of ears. Many hospitals now provide nurse navigators to help patients “navigate” the health care system.

Stacy Patzloff, RN, BSN, a certified oncology nurse navigator at Alegent Creighton Health, says nurse navigators work closely with the patient and the cancer support team to make sure everything is coordinated. They’re there to attend appointments with them and to act as a support person who is available 24/7.

“Motherhood can be stressful enough…put cancer on top of that, and you have a lot to deal with.” – Peggy Jarrell, licensed clinical social worker and certified oncology social worker with Nebraska Methodist Hospital

Support is key, agrees Dr. Block, whether it’s family, friends, a support group, or seeking the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist. Exercise can also be a good thing and may help you get through chemotherapy with less fatigue, she notes.

Other tips that may help young patients get through treatment and recovery include:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others.
  • Take time for yourself if you’re having a bad day.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Seek the nutrition advice of dietitians on staff at the hospital where you are receiving treatment.
  • Take care of your physical well-being. Programs like Alegent Creighton Health’s Image Recovery program provide cancer patients with wigs and helps them deal with hair, nail, and skin problems that are unique to cancer patients.

Today, Wagner-Connolly is very active in a number of projects to help other young victims of cancer. She started the group Survivors Raising Kids for young parents who need help with childcare during treatment and recovery. She is on the board of Camp Kesem for kids who have had a parent with cancer. She is also a nursing instructor at Clarkson College where she teaches public health and is pursuing a doctorate in global health.

“I know how lucky I am,” she says. “I want to make a difference in this world. No one should have to face cancer and certainly not a young mom.”

And for those who do, Wagner-Connolly is committed to easing that journey.