When I Grow Up

I’ve been lucky enough to lead about half of the portraits the 2012 team has done this year, and I couldn’t be happier about that! It completely amazes me at how many people are kind enough to put down whatever they’re doing, and sit in front of our camera to share their story about their cancer experience. Portraits is definitely my favorite part of Illini 4000– in my mind, it’s what we’re riding for. Documenting the American cancer experience is something that I think has the potential to help a lot of people, in a lot of different ways. I know it’s certainly already helped me.


Of the 16 portraits that the team has done this year (go team!!), there are 5 that have been incredibly important to me.

The first was of three members of the Dinger family, Jeremy, Tammy, and Alex (who I lovingly know as AJ). Jeremy was diagnosed with cancer, and the 3 of them shared the story of how it affected all of them personally. This seems simple, but means so much to me because they’re very close friends of my family, and while I knew that Jeremy had cancer, and I’d heard some of the story, but to hear the details of everything they went through was incredibly moving.

The second was of someone even closer to me, my mom. She lost her mom to breast cancer at age 11, as well as losing her step-mom in November 2011. I’ve heard bits and pieces of the story throughout my entire life, but I’ve never heard it all in one sitting before, so it me hard. My mom has been my main influence of doing the ride; I don’t want anyone to have to go through the pain of losing their mother at such a young age. I’ve watched for years at the emotional toll cancer has taken on mom’s life, and if there’s anything I can do to make it so that doesn’t happen to other people, I want to.

The next three all happened within the last 12 days of the ride!

First, at the Hope Lodge in Baltimore, I met Jessica Drake, whose father was diagnosed with breast cancer. Jessica, during her portrait, said “I grew up knowing I wanted to make money and that was it. I went to school to be an accountant… After my dad got diagnosed with cancer, it really made me think about my values, and my big value is family now. So I changed my major, I want to be a grief counselor to help cancer patients…. Going from a 6 figure job to maybe only like 50,000 a year, but it makes me happy to know I can help people like my father.” Jessica really touched me when she said this, because I’ve been trying to figure out where life is trying to take me. I’ve wanted to be a doctor for a long time, but recently I’ve questioned that decision because I really want to have a family, and get to spend the time with them that Jessica thought was so important. Maybe I’ll grow up and be a grief counselor too!

The next portrait that has really touched me was the portrait of Debbie Richardson, taken in Wheeling, WV. She talked to us about a lot of the science behind her cancer, which was really interesting. She got a mammogram in June that was completely clear, but was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in September. She was incredibly positive about the entire thing, saying “God’s not finished with me yet.” When I asked about how cancer changed her outlook on life, she said that she found it incredibly important to tell the people you care about how much you care about them on a regular basis, because you never know what might happen. She’s completely right. I tend to be a planner; I make huge, elaborate scenarios in my mind about how to tell people how much I care about them, and they rarely, if ever, work out as planned. I also tend to be pretty awful at telling people on a regular basis how much they mean to me. Debbie helped me realize that it’s so much more important to tell the people you love, friends, family, etc, how much they mean to you on a daily basis, because you never know what might happen!

The final portrait that really touched me was a portrait we did last night, at the Broad St. United Methodist Church in Columbus. The woman was Emily Schornstein, and once she started telling her story, I realized I was sitting in front of the woman that I want to be when I grow up. She was diagnosed with colon cancer, as well as that she was the caretaker for her daughter when her daughter was also diagnosed with colon cancer. Emily was quite simply an incredible woman. She stated that while she’s happy that she’s still alive, she would’ve been fine with it if she passed away, because she’s done everything she wanted to do with her life, including crossing everything off her bucket list. 9 days after she finished her chemo treatment, she went to Egypt, and lived there for 4 years. Emily’s story really touched the 5 of us who did the portrait! I know that for me personally, I so often get caught up in what I need to do everyday, and what my to-do list says, and everything that needs to be accounted for, that I forget to live. It seems like a constant theme that people are often stuck just going through the motions. I don’t think that applies to Emily. She’s traveled to Kuwait, taken 8 cruises in the last 10 weeks, lived in Egypt, owned a cadillac, and lived in a house on the lake! (Just a few of the items on her bucket list that she shared with us.) Emily is an image of someone that I want to be — someone who isn’t afraid of dying, because she’s always lived.


I’m sure that as the summer goes on, there will be many more portraits that will touch all of us in different ways, but I owe huge thanks to these incredible people who have already changed my outlook on life, only 12 days into the ride.

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