Cancer or Not, Dare to Lead

I tell the ladies at my church that I am a bad Sunday School teacher. I replaced our teacher Julia, volunteering after she died from COVID in 2021. Who am I kidding? No one could replace Julia! She knew the Bible very well. I can't be as good as Julia, but at least we can continue Bible Study. As a young person, there were times when I disliked attending church services because I struggled with depression. My younger self would not believe I would ever teach a class at church. Last year, I missed only one Sunday because of a bad reaction from my injection to boost my hemoglobin.

Cancer or not, I have dared to lead.

Did my MDS mean having to give up being active?

In 2017, I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). MDS is a blood cancer caused by bone marrow failure. There are days when I don't have a lot of energy. Luckily, in 2017, I also retired after 39 years of teaching elementary special education classes. If you have ever worked in an elementary school or volunteered, you know how much stamina is required.

As someone living with blood cancer, do you hesitate when asked to volunteer for projects? Do you worry you won't have the energy to complete the job? Most organizations and churches have a small percentage of people doing the work. I sometimes believe people think I'm lazy when I decline to help. However, my health is more important than what people think.

Sometimes we are the best for the job

Another example of stepping out of my comfort zone is when I became president of my book club. How did I get that job? I was there. Like Bible Study, we would disband if no one took the lead. COVID slammed us, and we couldn't meet in person during the pandemic. We did away with membership dues, and our attendance has grown. Our members take turns discussing books we have enjoyed each month. I tell our members, "Your presentation doesn't have to be perfect. Your enthusiasm for the book will keep us interested." That's a good lesson for all of us. Don't strive for perfection. Strive for progress.

Volunteering and leading

I started volunteering for Centenarians of Oklahoma in 2018. We honor those who reach the age of 100. At this time, we have approximately 300 living centenarians in our state! I love reading their stories. They survived the Great Depression and World War II, and saw a Neil Armstrong walk on the moon! Then, in the 21st century, many learned to use computers. When asked what advice they would give young people, most say, "Put God first and take care of your family." Many of our centenarians have dared to lead as Girl Scout leaders or Little League coaches in their younger years. They have been active and continue their activities in a modified form, even at 100!

Tips for Leading

  • Explain your limits. For example, when you are stressed or tired, say, "I can work for a few more minutes, then I need to go home."
  • Give yourself some grace. Remember, we strive for progress, not perfection. I have anemia with my MDS, and sometimes I am a little shaky; if anyone comments on it when I am making announcements at book club, I can blame it on my blood cancer.
  • Tell people how you can participate. I'm willing to drive a few miles for meetings, but there are some meetings I can attend by ZOOM. Thank goodness for technology! I told the president of my DAR chapter (Daughters of the American Revolution) that I could mail our members get-well and sympathy cards instead of attending all those meetings.
  • Dare to say no. I had a story published in Guideposts magazine a couple of years ago, so the president of the Retired Teachers organization assumed I would be perfect for the newsletter's editor position. He emailed me the information. I politely declined, truthfully explaining that some days, there were side effects from my MDS treatments. Please give the job to someone who would enjoy the experience. That's right. Dare to lead, but it's okay to say NO.

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