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Name: Margaret Reynolds

Diagnosed At Age: 51

Status: 5-year anniversary coming December 26, 2013, at which point I will be declared cancer-free!

Bio: Margaret was raised in the home of the “Big Red” in Lincoln, Nebraska and graduated from UNL with a business degree. That took her to Kansas City for her dream job with Hallmark Cards, Inc. She had a wonderful 20-year career there, progressing quickly through general management and eventually serving as the lead strategic officer of the company, always involved in breaking new ground. You could call her a “change catalyst.” In 2001, Margaret launched her own company, a consulting company focused on helping private companies drive breakthrough growth and achieve high performance. When the company reached its 10th anniversary, they rebranded to Breakthrough Masters Unlimited, a name reflective of their client track record. They’ve have had amazing success with clients, doubling their business size and nailing their strategic goals—a rare occurrence in a world where more than 70% of companies fail to effectively implement their plans. Today, Margaret is a speaker, author, coach, counselor, consultant and friend to her diverse clients. The business has been recognized over the years as a “Top Company with Under 25 Employees,” and she has been graced with honors such as the “Women Who Mean Business” award from the Kansas City Business Journal and “Top Mentor” from the Kansas City Business Magazine.

On the home front, Margaret raised three wonderful adults, all in their 20s now. It was a whirlwind of activities, mostly sports. Her daughter was born with severe brain damage and was in a wheelchair her entire life, but she attended almost every game of her two brothers, up until her passing at the age of 24 this past March. Her sons both played college athletics—one on the University of Nebraska Golf Team, the other a member of the Vanderbilt Commodores College World Series Baseball team. Now, both have great jobs and girlfriends in their lives. Margaret and her husband have been married 35 years, a solid partnership, and he is a very involved parent. They also have two dogs, two cats and a horse. Her hobby is competitive trail riding, and she competes across a six state region. Margaret also takes an annual mission trip to Haiti every December to a special little orphanage in Jeremie. This year, she has organized a fundraiser, had a “poupee” (Haitian Creole for baby doll) designed and is in the process of having 100 made so they can deliver them for Christmas this year.

Margaret serves on a number of boards including the Association of Corporate Growth and the United Methodist Church Foundation.

My reaction when I was first diagnosed: I was devastated. I was sure I would die as I lost both of my parents to cancer. I fell apart and couldn’t do anything but play the tape, “I have cancer, I have cancer, I have cancer.” I prayed a lot, stopped eating due to stress and lost 25 pounds in the first two months. Because I was diagnosed around Thanksgiving, my scheduling got caught up in the holidays, and it took longer to get through the initial round of diagnostics and treatment (surgery). At first, I read everything I could about cancer, but then I was finding it was scaring me more. What worked best to get me out of my funk was talking with people who had been there and could relate to my feelings and walk me through it, along with beginning treatments. I turned a corner when I started chemo. Partly, I found my strength again and partly, I started taking antidepressants! Drugs are OK if you need them to focus on what matters!

How I’m feeling now: On top of the world. It is a strange thing to say, but I am grateful for my cancer. It made me much more appreciative for each day, the people in my life and the opportunities I have. I try to live each day fully and worry (a little) less about things I can’t control. I am physically active and feel I push myself to do much more now than I did before.

My inspirations: Other women who battled and beat cancer, some with worse situations than mine, gave me strength. Visiting with each of them helped me anticipate what I might face, and taught me what I needed to know that doctors don’t tell you and made me believe I could come out “whole” on the other side.

My support system: My family, my friends and my church were amazing. To do this day I can’t adequately thank them. As I was diagnosed in late November, my older son was temporarily living at home, as he was golfing professionally and it was “off season.” He took care of me every day, got me out of the house, made sure I ate and stayed sensitive to my moods. My husband patiently read me the same book each night, a story about healing. My youngest son was a freshman playing baseball at Vanderbilt. He made the starting team, and I was able to travel to many of his games with the help of my oldest son. He played really well that year and was named a Freshman All-American. It always boosted my spirits and took my mind off of me.

I belong to a professional women’s group called “Women Who Mean Business” in Kansas City. It is an appointed honor. Before my diagnosis, I had scheduled to join this group for a trip to Mexico. But, as luck would have it, the day they departed I was climbing aboard the chemo chair instead. Twelve women made that trip and, in my honor, each created a piece of artwork and then strung them on a colored string. Those fun cards adorned my mantle for the entire treatment process, reminding me of their care and concern. At each of my day-long chemo experiences, one woman always came with me to visit, calm me and make me laugh.

My church friends sent cards regularly. I must have had a few brightly colored envelopes in my box each and every day. I started posting them on my bathroom mirror (I sure didn’t want to look at my bald and boobless body), around the door frames, and anywhere else I had room. Seeing the array of cards and good wishes, collecting the stories and Bible verses, all cheered me up and made me feel their love and support. They also drove me around if I needed it, took me to the doctor or whatever else they thought I might need. Nothing was too small or too big, and usually they knew what I needed before I did.

I’m proud of: My family and friends for taking time out of their lives to make me feel special, of the growing bravery I felt as I navigated the process, and of what I learned and embraced to make me a better person by going through this fire.

I’m afraid of: Very little. I don’t want to have a recurrence.

I’ve learned: More than I can share. But, here are what I call the “universal” truths of life that are taught or reinforced during this trying time:

  1. Don’t go it alone—In life or cancer treatment.
  2. Be grateful every day—Write down what you are grateful for, and you will see how long the list is.
  3. The gold in life are your loved ones. Tell people how you feel about them—We don’t do that often enough.
  4. Take control of your life—Only you decide how to live it.
  5. Be curious—Ask questions about everything and become more knowledgeable about anything you care about.
  6. Push past your comfort zone for the greatest rewards—Haiti and competitive trail riding may have never happened before, but they enrich me beyond measure.

My advice to new patients: Talk to people who have been there and done that to learn what to ask, how it works and the million and one little things that the health system doesn’t think to tell you! Also, know that your husband needs a support system too. Find a guy to help him. Allow people to share their strength. Be you! Don’t try to fake it for everyone else’s sake. Stress makes the disease worse. A positive attitude quickens healing. Take drugs if you have to, to find that place where you can think positively about your outcome.

To see more of our 31 Survivors in 31 Days stories, click here!