It is with a heavy heart that I announce my resignation from my Program Manager position on May 13. I have accepted a new position as Director of Programs and Community Outreach with a national organization called Bright Spot Network that works with cancer survivors and their young children. It is an opportunity for me to bring my clinical expertise and nearly 14 years of cancer experience to a growing small non-profit that serves families across the United States, many of whom are not lucky enough to have a Gilda’s Club in their backyard. The added bonus of my new position is personal–it is a 20 hour remote position, allowing me to be fully available to my 7 year old son who still begs for my attention. I know this is a temporary gift that I plan to enjoy as long as I can. Besides my position at Bright Spot Network, I will maintain my Long Term Lecturer role at the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work at UW Madison.
Of course it’s bittersweet to leave my position, especially before we officially transition back to the clubhouse. I miss our bustling socials, impromptu lunch dates in the Community Room, and hugs. I know that we are getting close to the day when we can all be physically together again. How incredible is it that when we return we will have both on-site programs AND virtual programs?! My heart feels so happy that ALL people in the state of Wisconsin will have access to our support community, to engage in whatever ways best suit their needs and ability.
As I reflect back on my time at Gilda’s Club Madison since I began in the fall 2008, the memories, emotions, and lessons are overwhelming. I have grown exponentially as a person–far beyond any professional development one would hope for. Over the years, when people ask what I do, their responses are usually some flavor of, “Wow, that must be a hard job.” I have always been blessed to feel called to this work.
Certainly my own experience of losing two dads to cancer was an impetus, but I’ve stayed because the work serves me as much as the people with whom I work. What many folks don’t realize is that it is a gift to walk with our members in their cancer experience. Yes it can be sad and heartbreaking; yes, the injustice fuels advocacy and drive for change. But the vulnerability, insights, and resilience of our community has made me a better human, and I would like to share a few lessons I’m taking with me.
- Time is precious, don’t waste it. Yep, this one’s a cliche, but it is the most impactful and truthful one I’ve come to know. I’ve heard hundreds of stories from members about spending their lives working for retirement, or some future goal, only to get cancer and find they missed out on actually living. Cancer has a way of shoving priorities to the forefront of life, which brings us to #2.
- Check your priorities. How many times do you catch yourself perseverating about a problem that, in hindsight, was no big deal? Working at Gilda’s Club has saved me from eons of worry and suffering because I learned this lesson early on. When I caught my mind being drawn to miniscule challenges, I would think, “This is nothing compared to what our members are dealing with right now.” This mantra has kept my priorities in check for over a decade, gifting me time, energy and focus to spend on what matters most.
- Humor is essential. Sometimes new members, volunteers or staff wonder why there is so much laughing at a place for cancer. Even in the midst of a heavy support group, members can get so rowdy in their laughter that at the end of group the folks outside the room ask, “What were you guys DOING in there?!” Humor is healing and helps us to cope, inserting levity into the darkest of situations. There are so many benefits to laughter that have been scientifically proven. It’s why we continue to host laughter yoga! Check it out sometime. Or, come add your laugh to our clubhouse–it adds to the positive energy of the building. Speaking of which….
- Community is an energy. Having weathered a major flood that displaced us for seven months in 2018, and being remote for over two years due to covid, I have been privy to the unbreakable bonds that hold our community together. The sense of belonging–of being understood and completely supported by others–presents itself in so many lovely exchanges: a member giving a favorite book to a new support group friend for his first day of chemo; an invite out to coffee between a group of members who just met in yoga; a member taking care of another’s dog when she needs to travel for treatment; or a volunteer who sits and talks for hours with a member while she waits for a ride. While we are grateful to have such an incredible physical clubhouse, it is clear that it’s the love, tears, generosity, laughter, attentiveness, and compassion that fills it up beyond its walls with the energy that almost everyone walks in and feels. I’ve heard it a hundred times: “Wow–this place just has such a wonderful energy. It is so warm and welcoming!” It’s the ultimate penny dish–add to it when you can, and take some when you need it.
- Relationships never end, they just change. People going through cancer face many losses, some of which include pieces of the body, physical functioning, energy, motivation, cognitive capacity, identity, sense of trust, employment, financial security, intimacy, fertility, and faith. Certainly people experience the loss of friends and loved ones. Whether it is a death or a different type of loss, I have been with people as they grieve, adjust, edit their story, and come to accept something new. It is a very unique process for everyone, and not everyone comes to accept the final terms. And yet, I have been honored to sit with people and hear their beautiful stories about how life continues. There tends to be “See you different-lies” at Gilda’s, not “Goodbyes”.
And so, this is my “See you differently.” I hope to see you around Gilda’s Club in new ways. My family certainly plans to show up for the parties! My son, who has grown-up at Gilda’s Club, insists that I maintain my status as “Queen of Noogiefest”. I’m sure I will find myself involved in this annual Halloween party to some degree. I wish I had time to tell each and every one of you how you have distinctly moved me. Because you have. I take each of those moments with me and will be better for it.
Well done! Wishing you the best in your new endeavor.
You will be missed but you have found a position that is just as important. The added family time is a plus. My life in dealing with cancer was a bit easier to deal with because of you. Thank you and I wish you nothing but the best.
Oh gosh, your smile, presence and gigantic understanding heart will be sorely missed….but I am thrilled to hear of this professional growth and family opportunity for you. You always made my Tuesdays even better knowing I would be working with you. All the best as you chart your new course!!— Audra Thompson
Will miss you, Carissa. You have been part of the foundation that makes Gilda’s what it is. Good luck, my friend, you will be missed.
Carissa- Your gentle presence will be missed at Gilda’s! I loved the days of sharing the office with you and your ever changing photo gallery of that red headed boy! Bright Star is very blessed to be the new recipient of your energy and commitment and Gilda’s is so much better for having had that energy and commitment for so long.
Take care and enjoy your new work—-and the joys of working from home!! All the best.
You will be missed! You have done a wonderful job here.
You are simply an earth angel. You will be greatly missed. Your writing is magnificent and brought me to tears. Everyone who meets you, loves you. I’m so glad we’ll get to work with you in new ways. We wish you all the brightest and the best. We love our Queen of Noogiefest! We’ll see you differently.
Your support will be missed by so many of us. I am grateful to have been allowed to be a small part of your week and to see your kind heart and the gift you give so lovingly to so many when it is most needed. You gracious support will be long remembered.