Get Gutsy: How a Diagnosis Led to a New Definition



Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.

As a proud little sister of the genius mind behind the Get Gutsy lifestyle, I’m amazed at how its following has grown and I always look for ways to get gutsy myself. Jess has passed many things on to me from hand-me-downs to life lessons; so it only seems fitting that I embrace the mindset and look for ways to step outside of my comfort zone. A few instances immediately come to mind like the time Jess and I went zip lining in St. Thomas or when I took trapeze lessons as my birthday gift from her. It’s been exhilarating and I now find myself frequently looking for new adventures. While these experiences certainly take a level of courage, a different personal story comes to mind when I think about what it means to get gutsy.

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Sometimes we choose to step outside our comfort zones, and sometimes life throws something our way that forces us to get gutsy. My recent experience taught me a different side of getting gutsy than the one I was familiar with; it taught me that getting gutsy can mean laughing through fear, smiling through uncertainty and gritting your teeth through pain. To me, getting gutsy means embracing any new or challenging experience – whether you like it or not – and coming out on the other end with a new, better and more positive outlook on life.

At the beginning of November, I received a diagnosis that terrified me: Melanoma. I’d had a mole removed on my upper back near my left shoulder. About a week later, when I saw an incoming call from my dermatologist, my whole body filled with dread.

A friend had pointed out this suspicious mole to me on our Memorial Day Weekend beach trip – it was darker than the others and just didn’t look totally normal. A combination of fear and laziness left me putting off making an appointment but my gut told me something was off (another gutsy lesson: always trust your gut!). When I finally met with my dermatologist, he agreed it should be removed and sent to the lab. The report showed a superficial spreading melanoma (meaning it was, fortunately, pretty shallow – contained to the top layers of skin). He referred me to a surgical oncologist to determine next steps.

I know there could have been a million worse diagnoses, and melanoma is generally a very treatable condition when caught early. However, as a person with no previous serious health issues, the uncertainty of what this all meant hit hard. Could this be more serious than just one cancerous mole? What if it’s spread elsewhere? Does this mean I’m at risk for the rest of my life? All these questions and more came rushing through my head.

The rest moved quickly. My surgical oncologist cleared up much of the uncertainty and fear I felt, explaining every intricacy of my melanoma and the steps we would take. My situation was a pretty common presentation of melanoma, but the way the cells were dividing led to the possibility that it could have spread to the lymph nodes – and therefore, elsewhere in the body. We scheduled me for surgery to do a wide local excision at the site of the melanoma and a sentinel lymph node biopsy which would remove the first lymph node to which cancer cells are most likely to spread in order to be biopsied.

The day of surgery was scary and I can’t say I didn’t get a little emotional when the reality of the situation hit as I finally walked back to the pre-op room, when they inserted the IV, when I waved goodbye to my mom to walk myself into the operating room. But an hour or two (and a very nice, deep sleep) later, the easiest part was over and the worst would begin: waiting for the results. Fortunately the phone call came just 3 days later – and even more fortunately it was the best possible news: the local excision removed all melanoma cells and the biopsy of my lymph node came back totally clean and cancer-free. It was overwhelming. I felt grateful, relieved, thrilled, exhausted – overcome with a slew of emotions. And while this conclusion could have led me to reflect on how terrible this situation was and how awful the outcome could have been, I truly found myself focusing on how much I’d learned, how much I’d grown through this experience, how lucky I am that the outcome was this.

When I think back on this health journey that I went on, I don’t necessarily recall the pain I felt from needles, the fear I felt hearing my doctors talk to me about my diagnosis or the dread I felt thinking about what this diagnosis could eventually lead to. I think about the support I had from my doctors and friends, the love I had from my family and the confidence that those in my life instilled in me to be brave and have faith. I’ve found myself focusing on the positives of this experience: that I can now feel the importance of being more responsible and careful when it comes to my health, that I’ll now have the frequent monitoring and support from my doctors, that any future situation like this will be caught early, and so much more. I feel like a stronger person and I feel lucky that I have a fresh perspective on the fortune of being healthy – something that we often take advantage of.

Sometimes we’re getting gutsy and we don’t even realize it. We embrace new situations, we learn from new experiences, we find the silver lining. And through it all, we become a little stronger. When an exciting opportunity like skydiving presents itself, grab life by the horns and Get Gutsy! But don’t forget to also apply “Get Gutsy” to the little surprises in life; it’s an attitude that can make any situation a positive one.

PRSSA National Assembly 2013

ImageLast weekend I had the pleasure of representing PRSSA-UD at the PRSSA National Assembly in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was beyond excited for the opportunity to travel and to meet other like-minded students who love PRSSA as much as I do. However, the experience proved to be so much more than a fun weekend away with PRSSA-ers from around the country – I walked away with a whole new passion for the society, a network of PR go-getters, and a long list of ideas to bring back to UD and implement into our chapter.

The fun began on Thursday, April 4 with the Day-of Competition. Participants got broken up into teams and had one hour to develop a communications plan for a client – this year’s client was Duck® brand Printed EZ Start® Packaging Tape. My team worked diligently for the hour, creating a campaign targeted at moms/families featuring Pinterest “Pin it to Win it” contests and our hard work paid off – my team won the competition! Later that evening, we enjoyed dinner at the welcome reception with updates from the National Committee and mingling with other students.

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My team and me receiving our certificates for Day-of Competition. Photo Credit: Hannah Giles

Friday morning started bright and early with Chapter Officer Sessions – I attended the President’s session where we discussed where our chapters succeed and where we falter. I left feeling energized and excited with tons of ideas to help my chapter grow. Following the Chapter Officer Sessions, we broke out into three different mini-sessions – “How to Plan a Sensational Semester,” “Act Ethically and Carry On,” and “Spreading the Word.” At the first, we brainstormed the different ways that we engage our members and left with ideas to plan ahead and create a semester filled with meetings and events that our members will love. In the ethics session, we broke into groups and each faced an ethical dilemma and presented our way to deal with it. Finally, in “Spreading the Word,” we played PRINGO (PR Bingo) featuring the various benefits offered to PRSSA members. Later in the afternoon, we had a special session to discuss the logistics of Assembly the next day where we would vote in the new National Committee.

Saturday was a long day of speeches from the candidates – and even longer when you factor in the room full of PR people not allowed to use social media! Social media or not, though, the day was inspiring to hear from all of the passionate candidates so dedicated to serving. It was exciting to know that I had a say in the incoming National Committee but it was difficult to choose one among all of the highly qualified and devoted candidates. However, I’m confident in the newly elected committee and look forward to seeing their progress next year!

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Tom Garrity’s presentation on #PRMovies

National Assembly came to a close on Sunday morning with a wonderful presentation by our keynote speaker, Tom Garrity, President and CEO of The Garrity Group in Albuquerque. He presented on “#PRMovies,” featuring the most popular quotes from movies and relating them back to public relations. Finally, the National Conference Committee presented on the upcoming conference in Philadelphia in October, which made me super excited – it’s going to be fantastic!

This is getting pretty lengthy so I’m going to break it down to the top two lessons I learned from PRSSA National Assembly:

  1.  PRSSA is way more than just a resume booster. I’ll admit it. When I first joined PRSSA and decided to run for the executive board, I did so under the intentions that it would look great on my resume and set me apart. However, PRSSANA solidified what I’ve been slowly realizing over this past year – PRSSA is an incredible society that creates long-lasting relationships, provides personal and professional development, and prepares you for a successful career in the future.
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    New friends from Rowan PRSSA!
  2. You hold the key to your own success. Being surrounded by some of the most successful college students for a long weekend makes you realize what it means to be devoted to your future. These students were some of the most zealous, hard-working go-getters I have ever met – but they did it with their own drive and motivation. No one forced them to serve on their PRSSA executive boards while balancing classes, internships, part-time jobs and extra-curriculars. They all know what every successful professional must know – you create your own success through dedication, passion and hard work.

Thank you to PRSSA National for a wonderful National Assembly!

Planning and moderating a Twitter chat

ImageDuring December’s PRSSA Twitter chat, I connected with Brianna Rooney, the historian and director of alumni relations for Temple University’s PRSSA. PRSSA-UD has been discussing collaborating with other PRSSA chapters in the region and Temple was one that we planned on reaching out to. So when Brianna suggested that we get together to plan a Twitter chat for both of our chapters, I jumped at the idea.

Twitter chats are an awesome way to make connections with peers and colleagues and that’s what public relations is all about, right? I like to think of them as networking events in your pajamas. And really, what could be better than that?

Brianna and I discovered that we only live a quick 20-minute drive from each other so we decided to meet up over winter break to plan the chat for our chapters.

Planning the chat

Brianna and I met at the Panera near us and after a good hour of chatting about everything from public relations to study abroad to PRSSA and more, we got started on planning the chat. The process went something like this:

  1. Deciding on a topic – we chose PRSSA experiences (why you joined, what you’ve liked from PRSSA, what you hope to see in the future, etc.)
  2. Choosing a hashtag — #TUDPRSSA combined Temple University/University of Delaware and PRSSA
  3. Coming up with questions – we came up with 7 questions and strategically ordered them to enhance the flow of conversation
  4. Figuring out how we’d ask the questions – Since both Temple and UD were hosting, we decided the @PRSSA_UD and @TemplePRSSA would switch off asking the questions

Brianna and I left Panera super excited and ready to start promoting the chat to our chapters and other PRSSA members around the country. Through a week of tweets and emails, we successfully spread the word and I felt ready to moderate my first Twitter chat.

Moderating the chat

As 8:00 p.m. approached, I began feeling anxious about moderating. What if no one participated? Or what if so many people participated that I couldn’t keep up? When the clock struck 8, I dove in head first and hoped for the best. With around 20 participants, I was ecstatic with the turnout and the discussions that took place. I won’t lie – it was pretty overwhelming seeing the tweets pour in from the standpoint of a moderator. I used tweetchat.com and new tweets were filing in so quickly that it was difficult to even read. But I asked my questions when the time came and retweeted and replied when appropriate and overall, I was thrilled with the outcome!Image

And the best part? #TUDPRSSA was trending in Philadelphia!

The chat proved very successful as participants not only offered great answers to the questions, but also interacted with one another. We had participants from both Temple and UD, from other chapters around the country, and even a few alumni/professionals working in the field. The discussion fostered an appreciation for PRSSA and provided executive board members with ideas for future events to best benefit our members.

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Something I’m particularly hoping we can pull together from this chat? This great idea from Temple PRSSA president, Mackenzie Krott.

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To see some more highlights from the #TUDPRSSA Twitter chat, check out this Storify that I put together. With the success of the first chat, Temple and UD hope to host more in the future and continue to watch its growth!

Real-World Realizations

In case you haven’t read lately, I’ve been interning this winter at that National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. This is my first glimpse at what I call the “real world” since I’m working five days a week and getting a true experience as a full-time employee (even though I’m only working 9-3 but hey, close enough). Typically, an intern will work 2, maybe 3 days a week. However, I’m glad I’m getting an experience that closely resembles my future as a full-time PR professional because I’ve come to a few realizations…

1.    Commute time is sacred

I take the train into the city every day and it is the best time to unwind, relax and just think about absolutely nothing. I just turn on my iPod, listen to music and stare out the window. If you drive to work I wouldn’t recommend completely zoning out, but definitely listen to some relaxing music and take some time to just breathe. A commute is the perfect way to fuel up for the day ahead or unwind from the day’s stress.

2.    9-5 isn’t as easy as it seems

Not that I ever necessarily thought it WOULD be. I guess I just never really thought about how difficult it can be to focus and be productive all day long. I’m only working 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and even then, I’m finding it hard to get work done towards 2 o’clock. It’s definitely important to find a way to maintain productivity throughout the day.

3.    Breaks are essential

Solution to the above issue? Take breaks. When I first started my internship, I worked straight through the day, even while eating lunch. Working nonstop burnt me out so now I make it a point to step away from my assignments for a period of time. Go out to lunch, take a walk, stalk Facebook – do something other than work. It’ll recharge you to get through the day.

4.    Find a way to be active

I remember watching a segment on TV once where Dr. Oz recommended taking occasional breaks in the workday to get your heart rate up and suggested some go-to office exercises. I thought it was crazy – I mean, who would ever really do push ups leaning on their desk? But I’m starting to realize how important being active is when you’re working all day. It would be slightly weird if I started some jumping jacks at my desk considering I sit in a very public area at work. However, the first thing I want to do when I get home is hit the gym to clear my mind and get active after sitting at my desk all day. My workouts have helped me to stay both mentally and physically healthy which ultimately lead to a better attitude in the workday.

5.    Work environment makes a difference

You spend 40 hours a week in your workplace – with your coworkers, at your desk, at team meetings. It’s crucial when considering jobs that you think about the environment you want to work in. Do you need absolute silence to be productive or do you like a little noise? Do you want to work and interact with your coworkers or do you prefer to get things done yourself? It’s crucial that a job hunter considers those question and tries to envision him or herself as an employee in different work environments.

I feel better prepared going into my future thanks to what I’ve learned at my internship. Entering the real world takes some serious consideration and I’m glad I’ve figured out some ways to be happy and productive in my future career. What other real-world advice could you offer to students anticipating a full-time job after college?

Five Things Friday — New Years Style

Well, 2013 is here! Time to reflect and look forward. In honor of the new year and an amazing 2012, Five Things Friday will be a little different — it will feature TWELVE things that made me happy over the entire year of 2012. Therefore, we’ve got a lot to cover so lets get started!

1.

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{Interning at the Friends of High School Park last January. My first internship was an awesome start where I wrote news releases, designed promotional materials and just had an all around incredible experience.}

2.

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{Getting involved in my sorority as the philanthropy assistant. It was a rewarding experience to know that I was helping my sorority all while supporting our national philanthropies, and getting some experience in event planning.}

3.

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{Joining the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA-UD) executive board as the program director. Probably one of the best professional decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve made great connections, had awesome leadership experience, learned teamwork skills and made some amazing friends in the process.}

4.

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{Doing the Color Run this summer with some friends. This was definitely the most fun 5K ever — nothing makes a run exciting like getting covered in vibrant colors.}

5.

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{Moving into my first real apartment at school with some friends! It’s definitely been an exciting change from a dorm room.}

6.

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{Starting my position as the social media/marketing leader at UD. I’ve gotten experience writing articles for UDaily, helped to come up with content for the Blue Hen Says facebook and even got my own Twitter handle, @BlueHenJamie, as a representative of the university.}

7.

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{Autumn is my absolute favorite season and I always look forward to my fall-filled day with my sister, my mom and her best friend. This year was a fun day spent in Bucks County with food, shopping and gorgeous fall foliage!}

8.

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{As the program director for PRSSA-UD, it was my responsibility to plan the fall networking event called Night With the Pros. I successfully executed the evening from inviting speakers to ordering catering and all that fell in between and even received great feedback! A very proud moment.}

9.

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{My sister, Jessica, trained so hard for her first half marathon and nothing was more exciting than seeing the look on her face when I surprised her at the finish line. Since I was at school, she thought I wouldn’t be able to make it, but I managed to get there and it made for a great surprise! We both burst into tears a little…}

10.

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{Running the Jingle Bell Jog 5K with my sister! I love any excuse to dress in theme so putting on some festive socks, jingle bells and Santa ears made for an awesome run. Getting a personal best 5K time didn’t hurt either!}

11.

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{Starting my internship at the National Constitution Center just a few weeks ago! It’s already been a great experience and I have a feeling it’s only going to get better from here.}

12.

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{Getting the iPhone I’ve been wanting for so long this Christmas! I know I’m a little late in the game but it was definitely worth the wait and I’m in love. I officially feel like a member of the PR world — haha.}

I think it’s safe to say that 2012 was a great year for me. Overall, I can safely say that I grew as a person and as a professional. I found a balance of enjoying life and working hard that I feel really proud of and hope to continue into 2013.

What 12 things made you happy in 2012?

Internship Experiences

I’ve been interning in the public relations department at the National Constitution Center for two weeks now and it’s already proven to be a valuable experience. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity and to be working with an awesome supervisor and other talented people who have so much they can teach me. The Center has been a really cool environment to work in — walking through the front doors and hearing the jazz music from the Prohibition exhibit, taking occasional excursions into the museum for photo opts, being surrounded by marketing professionals, history buffs and even the caterers. There’s always something exciting going on.

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Since I’m available to intern for a shorter period of time than the usual semester (my winter session will conclude at the beginning of February), I wanted to spend as much time as possible interning so I’ve been going in every day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Being there so frequently has offered me a genuine experience in the working world and has allowed me to work more thoroughly on continuous projects. Speaking of, some of the tasks I’ve been working on include:

1. Social Media Editorial Calendar. I’ve been putting together a calendar of social media posts for the Center’s Facebook and Twitter with a goal of creating content for 6 months out so that they have something to work off of and don’t have to come up with something day of.

2. Managing the clip reports. This is more of a simple, day-to-day maintenance task but it’s definitely essential for any organization. I get emails from BurrellesLuce, TVEyes and Google Alerts and from those services, organize them into an Excel sheet for future reference.

3. Drafting news releases and media alerts. So far I’ve completed a media alert for the holiday week activities, a news release for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service/Inauguration Day programs, and I’m currently working on news releases for African American History Month and the Center’s “Moonshine and Valentines” party.

4. Taking photos for social media. One of which I am very proud but it hasn’t yet been published. So once it is, you’ll see it!

 Those are the more major jobs I’ve been doing but I’ve also done some random things here and there like updating a list of Mommy bloggers, learning the basics of editing video (which I’ll hopefully be putting to the test soon) and keeping track of social media stats. Some challenges I’ve faced:

  • Coming up with a format for the editorial calendar. I’ve never done one before so figuring out the best layout took a while and I’m still not totally sure my excel sheet is the best way to go. (anyone who’s created one, feel free to send some tips my way!)

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  • Writing posts for the uncertain future. Although the Center has many recurring civic holidays and programs, it’s hard to come up with a Tweet without 100% knowing what else is happening in the world on that day.
  • Channeling my creativity. I consider myself a very creative person but sometimes the creative juices just aren’t there when you need them. For example, coming up with a fun headline for the upcoming Valentine’s Day event just wasn’t happening at 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.
  • Writing new and original materials with last year’s perfectly written news releases on hand.
  • Prioritizing/scheduling. Lauren sends me to-do lists which is great because there’s always something to do but I struggle to figure out what I should get done first and how much time I should devote to each task. However, lately I’ve been writing out a schedule that seems to be working.Image

I’ve been loving this experience so far and I’m so excited for what’s to come in the month ahead!

Five Things Friday #3

Thank God it’s Friday! This week was beyond amazing, but definitely a big change for me and I’m welcoming the weekend with open arms. Why was it such an amazing week? Well, I started my winternship at the National Constitution Center and I’m already loving it! The big change is my transition into more of a “real-world” schedule consisting of 6:30 a.m. wake-up calls, train rides into the city with all the other “real” people (as I like to call them) and a 9-3 work day (OK, so it’s not your typical 9-5, but close enough if you ask me!). It’s definitely been an exciting experience thus far and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. A more thorough update is on the way in a few days :)

But now, it’s time to kick of the weekend by reflecting on the five things that made me happy this week!

Image{My very official ID for my internship}

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{Running the Jingle Bell 5K with my sister in festive attire. Not to mention that we both finished in our personal best 5K time}

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{The gorgeous view I see everyday when I exit Market East on my way to work)

{The Google 2012 Year in Review. These videos always inspire me}

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{The SEPTA train that gets me to work and gives me 40 minutes of personal time each day}

What things made you happy this week?