One Green Blood's State of Mind

Monday Motivator: The Power of One

By Scott Westerman
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This week I was honored to participate in MSURx, sponsored by the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Here’s the story I told about how the Power of One can become the Power of Many. Many of you may know this story. It happened almost exactly one year ago. But it’s worth retelling.

The longer I live, the more deeply I believe that no action is insignificant. And no matter who we are, we can become a catalyst for positive, meaningful change. And there really is no greater power.. than The Power of One.

In the five years I have never missed a home football game. And the one time I did, something extraordinary happened.

I agreed to speak at the Green and White Gala, a fundraiser sponsored by our DC Spartans alumni club. So I was in the back of a taxi cab on my way to the venue doing what we all do when we are not driving.. checking my Facebook feed. And here’s what I saw.

Go Blue!

Why, I wondered, were so many Spartans posting this picture on their feeds? Well as many of you now know, during the run-up to the Youngstown State game in 2013, a very talented skywriter by the name of Suzanne Asbury-Oliver wrote those six letters in the air over our stadium. Of course we didn’t know who did it at the time. But it had an effect. More Spartans posted “Go Blue” on social media on that one day than at any time in the history of the Internet. And boy, did they comment about it.

“The Michigan game isn’t for three weeks! Did someone in Ann Arbor forget what day it is?”

“Perhaps whoever paid for this should contribute to the athletic department so that they can hire a new offensive coordinator.”

“I can’t believe that a Wolverine would do something like this!”

“If they want to play dirty, so can we.”

When I saw the commentary start to turn in a negative direction, I tried to think of how we could transform it back into something positive. Then I looked down at my left wrist and saw this.

The Wristband

I have worn that bracelet since December of 2009. Because that was the day that my wife, Colleen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Scott and Colleen Then

 

That’s her on the right. Isn’t she gorgeous? By 2009, she had raised two amazing kids, helped dozens of people become healthier as a personal trainer and had followed me across seven states as I built a career as a cable guy. She was the perfect Mid-Michigan girl, smart, beautiful, feisty and fun. She came from a gene pool of hard workers who were farmers, builders and business owners.

But that pool also included the BRCA1 gene. An identifier for a number of potential cancers in women.  We didn’t know anything about BRCA until the her oldest sister began feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Anita chalked it all up to the spicy food those Aldrichs love, and put off seeing her doctor until the pain became debilitating. That’s when we learned she had stage 3 ovarian cancer.  She was a courageous fighter and battled the monster for another 4 years before we lost her.

It got Colleen’s attention and when she discovered that she, too had the BRCA gene, she decided to play it safe and have a proactive hysterectomy. The surgery went perfectly and the organs seemed to be pristine. It wasn’t until pathology examined things more closely that we discovered that she too carried the monster.

If there was good news, it was that we found it at stage one. Ovarian cancer is almost never discovered that early. We were lucky to live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where one of the world’s preeminent gynecological cancer specialists chose to live. So as I was about to start my new gig as head servant for the MSU Alumni Association, Colleen started chemotherapy. I told her I would decline the job offer, but she said that there was a reason that all these things were happening at once.

So I left her in New Mexico and drove to San Antonio to start my new Spartan Life at the Alamo Bowl on January 1, 2010.

Scott and Colleen mid Chemo

 

Long story short. We transferred her care to the University of Michigan Cancer Center, where the head of the department had been trained by her New Mexico doctor. She endured the horrors of chemo and fought the monster into remission.

And we learned that there were scores of women in the State of Michigan who were walking exactly the same path. They found support through the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance, an understaffed, underfunded and desperately needed organization that just happened to be located near the University of Michigan Stadium.. in Ann Arbor.

Meanwhile, back in that taxi cab in DC.. all of these things were swirling around in my head. And I got an idea.

What would Spartans do if we had money like that to burn? My bet was that we would invest it the way we invest our lives, “to tackle the world’s biggest problems”.

So I decided to find out. I wrote a note and attached it to the comment field of every iteration of the Go Blue picture I could find. Here’s what it said:

To my Spartan friends and family:

A University of Michigan fan paid $3,000 to have a skywriter paint this over Spartan Stadium today. I’m all for school spirit, but the sheer cost of this momentary chest beating gives the unfortunate perception of malice. That’s not what Spartans are about and I don’t believe it’s what true UofM alumni are all about. Will you help me show Wolverines everywhere what we can do with $3,000? This is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. As many of you know, Colleen is a two time survivor, one of hundreds in our state who are fighting this silent killer. Will you consider making a $10-$50 contribution to the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance (which is based in Ann Arbor) and say that it’s coming from a supporter of Michigan State University?

Here is the link: http://www.mioca.org/donate

Let’s show the world what Leaders, Lifesavers and World Changers do. Help me make this one go viral.

And then I forgot about it. I didn’t even send a note to the MIOCA people to tell them I did it. My ADD mind was shifting gears to the task at hand, my remarks at the scholarship gala and the names I wanted to make sure I remembered during the cocktail hour.

The event was great. I met Lt. General Judy Fedder, a Spartan who had turned a food science degree into an Air Force career that took her all the way to the Pentagon. It reminded me, again, of the power of a Spartan’s Will and how we can channel it for good. And I had totally forgotten about my bit of Facebook soap boxing until I opened my laptop back at the hotel. It was nearly midnight and my eyes vectored toward an email from Pam Dahlmann at MIOCA.

“Our donation website has crashed due to the flood of contributions from Michigan State People that we’ve received over the last few hours. It should be back up in the morning. Whatever you did… keep doing it!”

I had lucked into the right message to the right audience at the right moment. By Sunday evening, MIOCA was getting $2,000 dollars per hour in donations. When it was revealed that the UofM Athletic Department had, in fact, paid for the skywriting, after at first denying it, contributions shot past $30,000. The story was headline news on ESPN.com and I began to get emails from alumni across the country with screen shots of newspaper stories from New York to San Francisco.

Colleen didn’t know about any of this, until friends started emailing her. She was in Florida visiting our grandson.

Colleen and Hudson

And when I arrived that weekend to join the family in remembering Anita’s passing eight years before, we crossed the $40,000 dollar mark and had begun to see Michigan Wolverines contributing to MIOCA. There were phone calls from the local TV stations in Jacksonville, who saw a parallel between the Michigan / Michigan State story and the similar enmity of the Florida / Florida State rivalry. If our two schools could work together to fight a common enemy, why couldn’t they.

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

I went to every one of Colleen’s chemotherapy appointments at the UofM Cancer Center in my Green and White. I found the Spartan doctors and nurses who work there (and there are a ton of em) and gave them alumni pins. And I came to appreciate the world class care that my wife was receiving under the University of Michigan banner.

We said as much to the team during her final chemo treatment. When we began to believe that we might just keep the monster at bay, I expressed my gratitude.

“You know what a Green and White guy I am,” I said as I pointed to my Spartan attire. “But from the bottom of both of our hearts, I want to thank you all for saving Colleen’s life.”

One of the nurses gave me a wry smile and pointed to the clear IV bag that was coursing the cancer killing drugs through Colleen’s body for what we hoped would be the final time. “We didn’t save her. That did. It’s Carboplaten, the most prescribed chemotherapy drug in the world. It has saved tens of thousands of lives since it was invented.” She paused for effect, “at Michigan State University”.

Two Hands and an IV

I told the story to the reporter in Jacksonville that sunny fall day. “If we’ve learned anything this past week it is that rivalry isn’t about tearing the other team down. It’s about how we can both attack the world’s biggest problems.. together.”

Colleen’s cancer did come back. We went through the entire course of surgery and chemotherapy again and as I talk with you today, she will celebrate two years since again being declared in remission.

Here.. at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, Spartan researchers are working to discover the next great breakthrough in the treatment of a dozen different gynecological diseases. In a world where grants are tougher and tougher to get, Dean Rapley and her team often feel like their blue skies are filled with dark clouds.

That’s where you come in. You, in your own way, can harness The Power of One, just like I did that fall day in 2013.

If thousands of Spartans could come together to make a statement about six letters that appeared over a football stadium on a Saturday afternoon, let us resolve to come together right now, to focus our individual time, talent and treasure toward supporting the life saving research that is done right here, as only Spartans can, as only Spartans Will. Let’s make The Power of One become The Power of Many.

With Hudson

And one day in the not too distant future, I believe that we will walk hand in hand with our grand children and tell them the story of how what amazing things we were able to accomplish..  together.

Have a great week!

Feedback always welcome to Scott@spartanology.com

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Monday Motivator: Earning the Shirt

By Scott Westerman
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Scott’s Maxim: “When you decide to connect your brand with a high performance organization, you had better act the part.”

One of the perks of my job is that I occasionally get to travel with Sparty. Only 42 individuals have ever looked at the world through Sparty’s eyes. And what they see is an advanced course in human nature. (more…)

Monday Motivator: On Work

By Scott Westerman
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“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

This is what we celebrate on Labor Day, that American Work Ethic that defined our finest hours and made us the envy of the world. Repressed peoples came here for the opportunity to work and work hard. Even those who ended up on our shores by circumstance could rise above travails, paradigms and prejudice with dedicated effort.

The prize is today as it was then, to discover a rewarding craft and turn it into high art. (more…)

Monday Motivator: Steve Schram’s 10 Keys to Success – Plus One

By Scott Westerman
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“You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.” ~ Richelle E. Goodrich

My fellow broadcasting enthusiast and MSU roommate, Steve Schram stood before a group of students in the auditorium at the Communication Arts & Sciences building. He was there to distill a lifetime of experience into ten keys to success. As we launch another freshman class into the Spartan experience, it’s appropriate to share his wisdom. It’s a cookbook for success, wherever you may be in your life’s journey. (more…)

Monday Motivator: What Robin Williams Taught Us

By Scott Westerman
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“Comedy is acting out optimism” ~ Robin Williams

All of us who were Robin Williams fans will remember our reaction when we first heard the news. Disbelief. Anger. Sadness. Confusion.

There were those who called the act, “selfish”. A Fox News commentator alluded to cowardice (he has since expressed regret for that remark). “How could he do that to his family,” was something else I heard. “He had everything.”

If you are saying those things, you don’t know depression. You have never been in the grip of a monster that turns your every rational thought into self loathing, painting an horrific picture of existence that screams for release. You don’t know the utter helplessness that comes from being unable to lift the veil of despondency from your being, to the point where ending it all feels like the only alternative.

Yes, it is possible to crawl out into the sunshine again. Many do. But all who are afflicted know that the darkness is always close by. (more…)

Monday Motivator: Intention

By Scott Westerman
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“Care about the outcome.” 

It had taken weeks to orchestrate the call. Five participants from various silos within the corporation were on the line to hear my pitch for a sponsorship opportunity with our alumni association. I asked the question I always ask at the start of these conversations.

“Tell me about your community relations philosophy.”

A voice on the other end of the line said the following. I remember it well because it seared in to my brain.

“We are only interested in doing things that will get us more customers.” (more…)

Monday Motivator: The Watch

By Scott Westerman
Shinola SpartanListen to an audio version of this message.

“True friendship is the greatest gift you can give. “

The box was the square, brown, cardboard variety that regularly hatches small bits of electronics, pottery tools and paperbacks at our house. On top was an envelope that said, “Open this second.”

Colleen had the conspiratorial look in her eye that always told me she knew something I didn’t and was enjoying every minute of it. (more…)

Monday Motivator: Adapt!

By Scott Westerman
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“Free your mind from seeing yourself as you are, so you can see you might become”

You could see it in the eyes of everyone in attendance at the conference. The business was changing. Traditional revenue streams could no longer be counted upon. Speakers were saying that the very existence of the organizations who had paid for us to come here were in jeopardy. Disruption of the status quo was happening big time.

“The past is no longer a precursor of the future.”
“Those who thrive will focus on their strengths and adapt to globalization.”
“If you have a vested interest in growth, you have a vested interest in innovation.”
“Adapt.. or die.”

If you are connected to any established industry, my bet is that you have heard these very words sometime in the last year. All of the quotes I’ve mentioned came from a conference I attended dedicated to university advancement and alumni relations. But wherever you are and whatever you are doing right now, they fit your situation, both personally and professionally.

Let’s look at each of the three dimensions of life and do a gut check on your adaptability. (more…)

Monday Motivator: The Art of Becoming

By Scott Westerman
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“By fixating on the end product, I’d gone blind to the beauty of becoming” ~ Beth Kephart

It was a proud moment… watching my friend Leigh Graves Wolf defend her dissertation. That’s the last hurdle you clear before you earn your doctorate. Her passions parallel mine: technology, teaching and watching people discover and achieve their potential. Her presentation was relaxed, smooth and confident. There was an air of fun floating around the room. Her committee, the PHds who helped guide her to this point, sat with cheshire cat smiles. Not because she was nailing her last final exam. But because they knew the adventures she had along the way. (more…)

Monday Motivator: The Small Stuff

By Scott Westerman
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“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa

Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness and support can make all the difference.

Remember the book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff“? Richard Carlson‘s timeless tome reminds us that our in-box will never be empty. It’s easy to get caught up in minutia that distracts us from the things that most contribute to our happiness.  “The purpose of life isn’t to get it all done, but to enjoy each step on the journey.” Carlson writes.

If you haven’t read the book, it’s title makes it easy to think that you shouldn’t pay attention to detail. You should. Just be sure you’re paying attention to the right details. (more…)

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