A2A Alliance

@a2aalliance | partner
We are dedicated to inspiring, educating, and facilitating the process of turning personal challenges into service to others with similar challenges.
Scott Fedor

Building a Successful Life After Spinal Cord Injury

I love lacing up my turquoise Nike running shoes each morning. However, every time I leave my house, going for a jog is the furthest thing from my mind as the door closes behind me. In fact, I will go out of my way to avoid a set of stairs like it’s the plague. And if I get somewhere and the elevator is out of order, well let’s just say it can sour my mood quicker than a cold cup of coffee. In spite of all this, I certainly don’t consider myself to be an individual in possession of an indolent nature. Actually, I’m more productive than most people I know. I just don’t use my feet right now. I’m paralyzed. A 2009 diving accident took away the use of my feet. And my legs, hands, and arms. My spinal cord injury took any movement and sensation below my shoulders. Not to boast, but I do have a pretty strong shoulder shrug. Unfortunately, any muscles I do build up don’t stand a chance against the perpetual atrophy always waiting to pounce on my progress. A quick jump in the lake to cool off turned into a life full of navigating much more complicated tides. Gone are the days spent obsessing about gross margins, inventory turns, and sales data, like I did when I was a sales and marketing vice president. I no longer plan my vacation time around customer line reviews. All of the aforementioned tasks I used to deem meaningful have now been replaced by much more critical issues, such as trying to maintain bone density, skin integrity, and pulmonary health. Paralysis can be paralyzing. Most of us could recite, ad nauseam, the indelible marketing campaigns that have been rammed through our TVs and jammed into our psyches, reminding us to, “Be All That You Can Be,” “Go Forth,” and “Seize the Day.” However, living life isn’t just about enlisting in the Army, wearing your favorite pair of Levis, or purchasing that sparkling DeBeers diamond. All of us have goals and aspirations. Unfortunately, we also have responsibilities and obligations that often consume our focus and take precedent over our happiness. Most of us spend our days attached to our smart phones and tablets which keep us connected to all that stuff we’ve designated as important. It can help fool us into thinking we are in control. I’ve discovered that the only thing I can control is my attitude. I’ve also discovered it’s the only thing worth controlling. My attitude is what has kept me going stronger than a pack of Energizer batteries ever could. As I can certainly attest, anyone’s situation has the ability to drastically change in an instant. Anyone. Your entire life’s agenda can change quicker than it takes Apple to introduce another version of its iPhone. Unfortunately, that change can occur when you least expect it. Life doesn’t reconstruct itself to accommodate our plans. We need to adapt our plans to accommodate what life hands us. My paralysis has not paralyzed me. I run a successful nonprofit organization, serve on multiple boards, routinely speak to large audiences as a motivational speaker, work out several hours a week and still find time for the occasional cigar and single malt with my friends. I am busier now then I was before I broke my neck. I have not let being paralyzed define who I am. What you choose to do in life is entirely up to you. Whether it’s your aim to become a successful advertising executive, help others through some philanthropic endeavor, achieve financial independence, or simply dive headfirst into a hobby you’ve always wanted to, it’s up to you. My advice: Don’t let your situation define you. Be willing to take control of your attitude. Because when it comes down to it, there is some truth to be found in all those advertising campaigns that companies spend billions on. They are right, life is too short, and tomorrow is never guaranteed. Just Doing It isn’t just about lacing up those Nikes each morning. Read more on Scott Fedor’s website. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Continue reading this story...

Alison Dotson

There Is Hope: Getting Help for Intrusive Thoughts and OCD

Eleven years ago I went to New York City to celebrate a long St. Patrick’s Day weekend with friends, and I was miserable the entire time. From the outside looking in, nothing was out of place: My boyfriend had booked a unique hotel for us, and my friend was the perfect guide to her city. We went to Irish pubs, shopped, hung out on a rooftop and had delicious dinners out. I should have been having the time of my life, wishing the weekend would never end. But all I wanted to do was lie down and sleep. I’d been struggling with ugly, immoral intrusive thoughts for months, and by the time we left for our much-anticipated trip, I’d lost almost all hope that I’d ever feel like myself again. By the end of our long weekend, I’d been brought to my knees, desperate for help. The day my boyfriend and I got back to Minneapolis, I called a psychology clinic to make an appointment with someone who could prescribe antidepressants. It took an unbelievable amount of courage to dial the number and tell a stranger a small piece of my story – and I was met with an emotionless, “We’re booked for the next three months.” Click. I sat on the edge of my bed and cried. I knew it. I knew no one could help me. I pulled myself together. I couldn’t live like this any longer. I had to at least try. So I called my gynecologist’s office of all places, and told that small piece of my story again: I need help, I’m feeling really depressed. I think I need to go on an antidepressant. This time the voice on the other end of the line was understanding, and when we hung up I had an appointment for that very afternoon. A few weeks later a psychiatrist diagnosed me with OCD. Although the antidepressants had already started to work, the day I was diagnosed was the first day I felt hope. Real hope. For so long — years and years — I’d thought I was the only person in the whole world who’d ever felt like I had, who’d struggled with the same intrusive thoughts I had. Convinced I was a monster, I’d walked through life feeling hopeless and alone. If only I’d had the courage to tell someone sooner. The day I called the psychology clinic and eked out a sentence of my life story, I never would have imagined I’d be where I am today. I’ve told roomfuls of people about my most shameful and embarrassing obsessions. People I’ve never met know details of my life that actually make me blush. I’m spreading hope, and it’s all because I got hope first. You don’t have to wait as long as I did for hope. You don’t even have to tell anyone your story if you’re not ready. Just go to Project Hope Exchange and listen to messages of hope left by other individuals with OCD as well as therapists and family members affected by OCD. And if you have some inspiration to share, call 1-855-975-HOPE and leave a 30-second message of hope for individuals with OCD. It could be the push they need to move forward in their recovery. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinktock photo via Halfpoint

Ann Graham

Pediatric Cancer: Osteosarcoma Diagnosis and Starting Make It Better

After years 20 years of being an on-again and off-again runner, the time had come at age 42 for commitment. I registered to participate in a marathon in my town of Lake Placid in upstate New York. A month into my training, my knee began to hurt. A lot. I visited my doctor, who rightfully remarked that this type of pain happens when you are a 40-something runner. Nine months, multiple misdiagnoses and a skipped marathon later, the pain was so great I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. An MRI was finally ordered. The radiology tech would gently tell me after each 20-plus minute ride on the flat board through the jack hammer tube, that they needed another study, then some contrast, followed by another set of eyes, one more time… Three hours later, I was done. I got dressed and ready to go home to my three daughters. As I swung my purse over my shoulder, the radiology tech put her hand on my shoulder as I was dashing out the door and said I needed to see my doctor. I said, “OK, I’ll call her tomorrow.” “No,” she responded quietly, “she is waiting for you now.” As I drove back to the doctor’s office, I passed by my house and called my husband. “I’m not sure what’s going on,” my voice started to warble with the weight of the words about to come out, “but the radiologist is sending me back to the doctor now.” My dear husband, John, knew that warble from similar calls related to three difficult pregnancies. He responded with urgency to my shaky voice with an immediate, “I will see you there.” Crutching into the now after-hours, dim and almost silent doctor’s office, I went straight in to find my doctor waiting for me next to a computer screen with my MRI illuminated. I went flush with emotion and fear at the sight of my MRI with a bright white space the shape of South Carolina at the top of my tibia. “I know what you are thinking,” she started somewhat defensively, “cancer.” “Well, I am no doctor, but that is cancer.” I left immediately and found John coming toward me, the sight of him releasing a damn of fearful tears. A few days later, I was at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC, being wheeled into surgery for a bone biopsy. I woke up in a recovery room from bone biopsy surgery feeling foggy and bleary-eyed. John and my surgeon were standing at my side. I smiled at the sight of them, and realized that they were somber. John was squeezing my hand, hard; “Hi, Annie.” His voice was library-quiet. Dr. Healey, my surgeon spoke with the same nearly silent voice, “Ann, it is osteosarcoma.” Two days later, I was cleared to leave the orthopedic surgery floor. John and I were sent to see Dr. Meyers. The elevator doors opened to an uncharacteristically (for a hospital) brightly painted, funky shaped furnished, whimsically lit waiting area. “Is this the right floor?” I wondered aloud to John who was pushing my wheelchair, “I think this is a pediatric floor.” “It’s where this paper says to go,” he responded as confused as I. I remember saying, “There shouldn’t be such a place as a pediatric cancer floor, it just doesn’t seem right that kids should get cancer.” It was after hours and it was quiet. Really quiet. Within moments, a young woman with a long white coat came out to greet us and asked us to follow her. “Dr. Meyers and the team are waiting for you,” she said gently. Once settled, we discussed the diagnosis, chemotherapies, inevitable multiple surgeries and hospitalizations. We got paperwork and peach-colored cards that each explained the four different kinds of chemotherapies I was to receive and their side effects. Dr. Meyers told me that, “…the treatment for this type of cancer is aggressive and debilitating. At some point in treatment, we will likely have to decide if you are able to complete the treatment. You will not be able to work anymore. We need to start immediately.” We left the hospital for the five-hour drive back upstate. On the way home, I started to go through the copious amount of paperwork in my lap. I read aloud the side effects, the damage that will happen — hearing loss, heart trouble, infertility, hair loss, neuropathy, amputation or limb-salvage surgery (bones in my leg to be replaced by a titanium mega-endo-prosthetic), on and on… I stopped reading aloud, emotion tight in my throat, not allowing the words to leave my mouth. The accumulation of the talk of “loss” was suddenly and fully upon me. A week later, I checked in to the Pediatric Cancer Center for my first of 30 rounds of complicated chemotherapy cocktails. I was put in a small pocket of a large honeycomb of busy rooms filled with children undergoing the same thing as me — different regimens, but the same. There were regular intervals of ear and heart piercing cries of pain that would slice the chatter. Yet, on the whole, these young patients seemed cheerful. It was awe-inspiring. Seeing the parents of these warriors was like seeing battle-weary soldiers who had been through too much pain, seen too much suffering, yet they were steadfastly marching on — with an exhausted yet hopeful eye toward beating the enemy. To believe in anything but victory over their child’s cancer was unthinkable. In the halls, the parents shared patient information sites so they could stay in touch with each other. In their honeycomb rooms, they would sleep only when their child slept, half seated in a chair, half draped across the bed, holding a hand, ankle or leg — whatever wouldn’t cause discomfort for their child. Just holding on. These parents are mighty warriors – the ordinary person facing a beast that is trying to take their child’s life down. The parents who have suffered an excruciating loss, the death of their child to cancer, will forever have a section of their heart severed. I can’t profess to know the pain of this supernaturally agonizing loss. I know from too many grieving pediatric cancer parents that this brand of pain is forever raw and always available and very, very heavy. I am the outlier — the adult with the pediatric cancer who survived it. Far, far too many do not outlive osteosarcoma. The beast must be stopped. I created MIB Agents to do just that — we want to Make It Better by supporting the child through treatment: first, pairing them with a survivor; second, providing iPads and noise-canceling headphones; third, if treatments fail, creating end-of-life experiences when hospice enters the family’s home. Funding, awareness and research are part four of our collective crusade. MIB Agents is sponsoring an osteosarcoma conference this February. We are bringing together the top doctors and researchers with osteosarcoma patients and caregivers to forward our common goal of awareness, funding, collaboration, research and a cure.