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Browsing category: Real Strong Women of Distinction, Real. Strong. Women.
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Why I Chose a Career in Health Care

Tanya CaseBy Tanya Case
Alpha Gamma , University of New Mexico

For the past several years, many individuals have found themselves graduating from college but having difficulty finding a job. And in states whose economies have experienced a downturn because they are tied to the price of oil, it is even worse than ever.

A career in a health care profession is one that offers job stability and satisfaction. The stability is tied primarily to the aging of America’s baby boomers and their health care needs, and the satisfaction is centered around making a difference in people’s lives, but also the diversity of upward mobility.

A career in nursing can be very diverse. The location of our work can range from the bedside, a clinic and even your car should you choose to travel from home to home providing home health care or hospice care. Other nurses serve as case managers and assist individuals in navigating the vast health care system in order to meet their needs. Others may choose to work in public health as public health nurses dealing with everything from communicable-disease outbreaks to participating with other health care professionals in making sure that pregnant women receive prenatal care.

Recently, many nurses have chosen to pursue additional education to become an advanced practice nurse (APN). An APN is a registered nurse who has additional education and training in a specialty area. Certified nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse-midwives and certified nurse specialists are examples of advanced practice nurses. These nurses have a master’s degree in nursing, or a doctorate degree and board certification in their chosen specialty. Although some oversight is required by physicians, especially in regards to writing prescriptions for certain medications, advanced practice nurses function autonomously. Due to their advanced degrees and their responsibilities, these nurses are highly compensated.

For me personally, my master’s degree in nursing served as a foundation to move into the health policy and health insurance industry. Although a less common path for nurses, there are nurses who hold or have held top-level positions within the federal government, and a nurse currently serves as the CEO of a large, five-state insurance company in the Midwest. Although these types of positions have taken us away from direct patient care, we are impacting populations of people by the policy decisions we make on a daily basis. And, most importantly, as nurses we have never forgotten who is most important in every decision we make—the PATIENT.

If you would like to discuss a career in nursing, please email me at tanya@othrp.org.

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Overcoming Obstacles by Serving Others

Katrina_ShakleeBy Katrina Shaklee, Ψ (University of Oklahoma)
2015 Real. Strong. Women. of Distinction Recipient

When I was pursuing my degree at the University of Oklahoma, I considered myself many things—an Alpha Chi Omega, a friend, a daughter, etc. When I turned 24, I had the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) attached to who I was as well. It became a part of me whether or not I wanted it. When I received the diagnosis I had two choices: embrace it and move forward, or be frustrated and afraid. I’m not going to lie—I did have many frustrations and there were times when I was certainly scared, but long-term, I knew I had to move forward and make the most of my new life journey.

I decided to take my passion for sports and combine it with my new diagnosis. Perhaps that may seem like an unlikely merge, but I, along with help from various other people, created a nonprofit to provide sporting opportunities for athletes with physical disabilities. In 2000, we staged the first Endeavor Games for Athletes with Physical Disabilities, and that event has flourished every year since.

Many people seem to be intrigued by my having multiple sclerosis and managing it by blending my love of sports and creating this event. I’ve never been hesitant to share my journey of being diagnosed, but I do struggle when people look at me as having overcome obstacles, or doing something different and amazing.

Why, you might ask? Quite simply, when I watch our athletes competing, they are the ones I see as truly overcoming obstacles. Yes, I have a disease that isn’t going away any time soon. And with MS, the disease is very unpredictable, can change how it affects you and can get worse with time. Right now, I am managing extremely well. So, when I am at our track meet to watch a race and I see a 4-year-old smiling ear to ear while racing his wheelchair, or when I see a 30-year-old with only one limb competing in swimming, I don’t reflect on my obstacles, but instead get to witness some amazing athletes, doing some amazing things. The athletes we serve every year don’t want to be heroes, nor do they want to be your inspiration. They just want to be seen as competitive athlete, and we try our best to give them that opportunity.

I never planned on doing this with my life, serving others through a nonprofit and now through my employment with the University of Central Oklahoma. But it has become a part of who I am. As Steve Jobs once stated, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” This is what the Endeavor Games does for me. I encourage you to find something that will pull you as well.

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Building a Home and a Legacy

web_Dakota_HerseyBy: Dakota Hersey
Kappa Pi, University of North Carolina – Wilmington
Resident Consultant – University of Southern Mississippi

It is no secret that membership in Alpha Chi Omega is immensely special to everyone who has the privilege to call themselves a sister.

I have so much admiration for the founders who created this organization that has molded me into the woman I never knew I could be. They had a vision. They dreamed of creating a home on campus where they did not currently have one. One that offered the same lifelong development and friendship that other organizations had, but one that was perfect for them.

As a founding member of the Kappa Pi chapter, this vision resonates with me because I shared the same dream. I did not have an organization to call my own until I ran into the confident, authentic, beautiful Alpha Chi consultant team on campus. They presented an opportunity for my future sisters and me to become a part of this wonderful sisterhood that provides more than we could ever give back. They are the reason that vision came to life. They are also the reason I am who I am today and why I love Alpha Chi Omega as much as I do.

The main reason I was so determined to become a consultant was to see this vision come to life in many other chapters. I was beyond excited to inspire members the way every consultant has inspired me and, in turn, be encouraged by the members’ passion and dedication. After coaching one of the five chapters installed this past year, Kappa Sigma, through their first formal recruitment, I witnessed the same desire and drive to succeed as I saw in my founding class.

I absolutely loved my collegiate and founding experience. Now, as a consultant to a chapter filled with incredibly bright, talented, charismatic founding members and the new members they have recruited, I can’t even express the joy it brings me to work with them and listen to their stories.

The other day, I had the opportunity to ask a few of them what brought them to Alpha Chi. How and why did they choose to join this new chapter? It made my heart happy to hear what sounded like my own story and vision as the basis for the reasons they chose to create history as the founding class of Kappa Sigma. They were searching for something more and (with the help of some awesome consultants!) found it in Alpha Chi. They are willing to work for the sisterhood they have envisioned and they will stop at nothing until their chapter rises “To The Top!” I know that it is members like these women who make up all of the newest chapters of Alpha Chi Omega and I couldn’t be more proud.

If you are considering founding membership in Alpha Chi Omega, my advice to you is absolutely go for it. Being a founder is a once in a lifetime experience. You get to create a home on campus that does not yet exist for not only yourself but also the thousands of women who will come behind you. You have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the original founders of Alpha Chi Omega. It’s hard to believe, but before you know it you’ll be alongside your sisters, rocking your first formal recruitment, mentoring new members just like yourself and taking your unique experience into your future – as a real, strong woman of Alpha Chi Omega.

 

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Healing and Empowered: I am a Domestic Violence Survivor

Jenna Crawford Mayo Photoby Jenna Mayo
(Epsilon Zeta chapter, Auburn University)

When I was in college, Alpha Chi Omega gave me such great opportunities to succeed in school and on campus. I had leadership positions on campus, was involved in social groups, sorority athletics, studied abroad in London, was on the Dean’s List, and nothing could stop me. I truly had it all, was living life to the fullest, and was prepared to take on the world. In 2006, I graduated from Auburn University and returned home from an amazing summer internship in NYC. I was starting a graduate “traineeship” with the Atlanta Braves when my life took a drastic turn.

Nothing could have prepared me to become a victim of domestic violence. I was the one in chapter saying, “that would never happen to me,” during those Alpha Chi Omega Foundation presentations. I was the one saying, “I am too strong to let someone like that in my life,” but I was wrong. I thought he would change. I thought he was a good person. But, his manipulation and control took over my realistic way of thinking. I thought that we were in love, because that is what he kept telling me. I was so close to the situation, I could not see what was happening.

The day of the accident was traumatic. I made the decision to get into his car, because I was afraid he would physically hurt me again, like he did many times before. I remember when he lost control of the car, and then waking up in what looked like a bomb had gone off. Parts of the car were scattered and there was blood all over me. We hit a tree and were facing oncoming traffic in a busy intersection in downtown Atlanta. I was able to get out of the car, and I kept asking for someone to call my parents and tell them, “I am sorry.” After the ambulance ride, the wait in the ER, and the hospital mixing up my X-rays and telling us that I might be paralyzed, the chaplain approached me. It was at that moment I recognized that I had to escape and could not go back to him. He was in ICU. I had broken my back, was severely bruised in many places from parts of the car, had seat belt burns, and a black eye from the airbag. After that accident, I remember looking into the mirror and not recognizing myself.

I wondered what had happened to me. How did I, a strong woman, let this go so far? If not for that accident, what else would have ended it? I questioned my own judgment and could not believe that I was so blind. At first, I was embarrassed, ashamed, and scared that people would not accept me, even my friends. I wondered who would want to date me after all of this? I was not only physically hurt, but also emotionally damaged. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and stages of post traumatic stress disorder. I had to go through months of physical therapy and counseling to learn cognitive skills, how to forgive, and how to trust people again. I soon came to the realization that although we cannot change people, we can change ourselves and our way of thinking.

Over time, I felt empowered. I filed a stalking order, got a lawyer and filed a lawsuit, and went to a local safe house and outpatient hospital to learn more about the psychology behind abusers. I decided to interview for an Alpha Chi Omega Foundation Specialist volunteer position and was selected. With the help of Alpha Chi Omega, I have spoken to hundreds of women about escaping domestic violence and how to help their sisters in these situations. Last year, with the help of the Atlanta-area alumnae chapter, Alpha Gamma Alpha, we raised over $4,000 for victims of domestic violence and the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation.

Today, I am truly living out my dream of getting my master’s degree; working my dream job with ESPN; competing in triathlons; and most importantly, I am married to the love of my life! Eight years following our meeting at an Alpha Chi Omega event, we were reunited after my Alpha Chi Omega sister’s rehearsal dinner. Six months later, we got engaged! I know that without Alpha Chi Omega, my life would not be the same. We all have a special bond through Alpha Chi Omega, and I would like to encourage you all to love your sisters, forgive each other, follow your dreams, and take pride in being real, strong women. I hope that my story encourages you and proves that no matter where you are in life, your fairy tale can still come true!

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The Amazing Love of My Sisters

LaurenThurmanHaislupby Lauren Thurman Haislup
Beta Psi chapter, Louisiana Tech University

This past year has been one to remember—both good and bad. This time last year, I was finishing graduate school, gearing up for another great Alpha Chi convention and planning our December wedding. I thought the only negative ahead was that I was officially on the downward slope of my twenties.

It’s true what they say about how quickly things can change.

In August, I lost a longtime friend in the line of duty. This was especially hard for me since I was just a few months away from marrying my own deputy. Not long after, my Parish (ya’ll call them counties) in Louisiana was hit with Hurricane Isaac. Nearly 80 percent of all homes had damage, mine included.

Thanks to Isaac, I crossed items off my bucket list I never imagined would be on it: I waded through neck-deep water with a camera in one hand and phone in the other;  I was hoisted nearly six feet in the air through my kitchen sink window by my momma; I mentally analyzed my entire house to determine what was below the water line; I rummaged through my house like a criminal on a mission trying to pull anything out of the water that I could; and I put everything that we owned in a canoe, which I dubbed as “my houseboat.”

Those are just a few things about the experience I will forever remember, but the memories that I really want to cherish are my sisters calling me constantly through the ordeal—while I was displaced 300 miles away waiting to be cleared to go home; during the 11 hour car ride back; and while standing in three feet of water in the middle of my street that included me humorously joking that the alligators, snakes and nutria better not mess with this crazy woman and her camera trying to finding her copy of The Symphony that was tucked away in a drawer. The reminder of The Symphony just calmed my nerves in the midst of everything.

My sisters, with open arms and hearts, came with calls and prayers from near and far. That love and friendship has been like no other; it comforted me in the direst times of my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I know that when I accepted that bid card, I would have the love and support that I have had from an amazing group of women that I proudly call my sisters.

Since Isaac, things have started to improve. Charlie and I were married in a traditional New Orleans wedding; his three-year wait for a department transfer was approved; I was offered a dream job; and we purchased a home (it sits up on a hill, several feet higher than our neighbors’).

In our Pre-Cana classes, the deacon spoke to my husband and I in detail of 10 life-changing events that would test a marriage.  We have had the ultimate test, nine of those events in less than a year. It’s been tough, tiring and troublesome, but throughout all of this, our family, friends and most of all my sisters have been there for us.

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Life: A Balancing Act

Diane PaddisonDiane Paddison (Chi chapter, Oregon State University) begins every morning with an invigorating workout. To many, that alone is an amazing accomplishment!

A deeper look into her life reveals an amazing career at the top of her profession; a marriage that works remarkably well; four children who will forever carry memories of her “being there” for the important moments in their lives; a successful book published to rave reviews; an organization founded to fill a void in the lives of young women everywhere; a Harvard degree; a blog with thousands of followers; speaking engagements; volunteer service on committees and boards—both locally and nationally; a university trustee; and an unwavering faith at the foundation of it all.

Exhausted? It’s enough to make a person want to crawl under the covers and take a nap.

It also sounds like the idealistic life of someone who was raised with plenty of wealth and privilege; someone who’s had opportunities land in her lap at every corner; someone who doesn’t know what it means to struggle and question and make mistakes along the way. It’s not.

Instead, it is the story of a strong woman whose work ethic was instilled out of necessity at the very young age of five when she began work on her family farm. It is the story of a grounded woman who realized that opportunities to grow present themselves in every life situation, both the good and not-so-good. It is the story of an authentic woman, one who wants to share the lessons she’s learned along her life’s path to encourage and inspire today’s young women trying to balance relationships, career and faith.

A Google search for “living a balanced life” will yield nearly 14 million results. Everyone seems to be searching for the secret, and many are claiming to have the answers. So, what makes Diane Paddison special? Let’s start at the beginning.

The Road to Success
The second of four siblings and oldest daughter of a farming family in rural Oregon, Diane developed a head for business when she began helping her father at the age of five. In the most literal sense, she began climbing ladders early, as she often found herself picking fruit from trees to sell in the family roadside market. As she grew, so did her responsibilities. In high school, she often supervised classmates who earned extra money by helping on the farm. Perhaps learning to assert her authority while still maintaining friendships was an early lesson in diplomacy. It was certainly a lesson to fall back on as president of her Alpha Chi Omega chapter at Oregon State University.

When it came time to leave home for college, Diane decided on a career in fashion merchandising. “Growing up in a rural area, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to all of the opportunities out there,” she said. “Through 4-H I was involved in things like sewing and cooking. Because of the sewing experience, along with the environment of a family-run business, I thought fashion merchandising was a good option.”  But after an internship in the field, she knew this was not what she wanted her life’s work to be. As she struggled to find the answer that was right for her, it was a couple of close friends who suggested she apply to Harvard Business School.

Feeling less than confident about her chances of being accepted into the program, coupled with the lack of funds to pay for more schooling, she learned a lesson in the value of both friendships and getting involved. Those friends, acting as if it was no big deal, convinced her she needed to try, so she did.

As Diane filled out her application, she highlighted her leadership activities outside of the classroom while at Oregon State: she was an active Alpha Chi Omega, served as head of special events for the Memorial Union Programs Council (in charge of campus-wide events such as homecoming) and participated in the Blue Key Honor Society. “Being the president of a sorority when you have 120 members and 60 women living in a house together taught me so much about managing a group of people, especially when these are your college peers,” she stated. “You had to do it in a way so they understood there were rules and guidelines, but you also want to be their friend. I made that a major emphasis on my application to Harvard Business School.”

To help financially, she opted to apply for a deferred enrollment program, which gave her two years between her undergraduate and graduate course work to earn some money. Diane subsequently faced the challenge of finding an employer who would understand her two-year availability. She felt fortunate to speak with representatives from IBM at a job fair who supported her drive to continue with her education and, in fact, offered her a position within the company on the East Coast, near Harvard.

After two years at IBM, with some money in her pocket and invaluable business experience on which to build, she began her Harvard journey. Reminiscent of her initial impression, she said, “When I first arrived, I thought I was an admissions mistake! I was blown away by my classmates. Harvard was very challenging, super rewarding and an unbelievable opportunity.”

Climbing the Ladder
Upon graduation, her struggles to find balance in her life would take center stage. Having met her future husband during a trip to Oklahoma City with her sister just before leaving home for good to start her job at IBM, she maintained a long-distance relationship throughout the two years it took to earn her MBA. While her peers were excited to be recruited to positions with major companies in major cities, she knew her journey would take her to Tulsa where she wanted to build a life and start a family with the man she loved.

While at Harvard, she turned down an offer with Trammell Crow Company, one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the country. Although they had an office in Tulsa, she didn’t believe she was cut out for the commercial real estate industry. And although she landed a position at a consulting firm, she continued to be frustrated by her efforts to find a professional opportunity she felt was a good fit for her, allowing her to define her life in terms of all of the elements she considered important.  She eventually accepted a position with Trammell Crow and began to climb the ladder that would ultimately lead to serving on the executive team of three global Fortune 500 companies—where she was the only woman all three times.

Shortly after she began her job at Trammell Crow, Diane discovered she was pregnant. With her career set, her family life was headed in the right direction. She was fortunate her employer supported her desire to set boundaries that allowed her energy to be focused on her family as needed.

With a successful balance between work and family, and as a young professional Christian woman, Diane felt there was room to grow in her ability to focus on her faith and ensure this all-too-easy-to-ignore aspect of life remained an integral part of her present and future.

Walking a Tightrope
Just a few years later, with two children and a thriving career, her marriage began to unravel. She was dealing with what she terms “unexpected brokenness.” More recently, she lost both of her parents in a 16-month timeframe, her daughter became sick in June of 2012 and her son went through and triumphed over a time of personal struggle. She never expected to encounter such personal anguish. Yet, in both phases of her life, she was facing these circumstances just the same. After her divorce, she knew she had to pick herself up and create a learning opportunity that would help to further define the person she wanted to be. “We all have stuff that happens. It’s easy to appreciate the great stuff, but it’s what you do with what happens that isn’t great that makes the biggest difference,” she stated.

She had accepted a national position with Trammell Crow in 1996, and shortly after her divorce in 1997, she moved to Dallas. Upon searching for a church community that offered avenues to celebrate her faith as she desired, she recognized a need for opportunities for professional women to become involved in their church.

While the roles women held in business, the family and the community continued to evolve, it was still difficult to find a church community that acknowledged these changing times and offered support and faith-based guidance to young professional women. Diane exemplifies this evolution in her accomplishments, determination and strength. She says, “I had always been the primary breadwinner until the last few years. In fact, in 40 percent of families today, the wife is the primary breadwinner. And, over 50 percent of advanced degrees are going to women. This trend is not going to change. But, we are different than men. We need role models.”

Striking a Balance
In the ensuing years, she has become the very role model that was missing in her life. She has become an inspiration to many who are searching for a balance that includes not only their career and family but their faith as well. She met Chris, her current husband of 12 years, with whom she shares a blended family, doubling the number of children from two to four. She enjoys a strong and healthy marriage based on open, honest communication. She took her career to a new level as the chief strategy officer for Cassidy Turley, staying within the commercial real estate industry but decreasing the number of hours she works in a week to devote time to other passions.

One of those passions is community service.  “We’re called to give back,” she says. “I have been so blessed in my life, and I have a real passion for helping professional women with practical life advice.” Her many service projects include terms on the National Advisory Board for The Salvation Army, serving as a board member for the Harvard Business School Christian Fellowship Alumni Association and as a foundation trustee for Oregon State University.

Diane’s opportunity to inspire and motivate young professional Christian women is embodied in 4word, an organization she founded that has grown tremendously since the website (4wordwomen.org) was launched in the fall of 2011. “I felt a passion once I ended my 24/7 career in the real estate industry. I wanted to evaluate what my gifts were and what I really enjoyed and use that to give back.”  The website has a highly engaged and growing digital community with over 500,000 digital impressions each month, and returning visitors spending an average of 3.3 minutes and viewing at least three pages on the website. Readers find blogs, inspirational articles, interviews, recommendations and general information about living in a way that encompasses the three vital elements of a balanced life—work, faith and relationships. She has, in fact, been the motivation behind local chapters of 4word, in several communities, gathering to discuss the issues she addresses.

At the same time the 4word website launched, Diane published her life’s story in a book met with rave reviews titled Work, Love, Pray. She is a Christian woman, aiming to help young professional Christian women find the motivation to succeed in living their best life in balance. Her faith is at the core of her values and strength. She was insistent the cover of her book indicate the target audience as Christian women. “I didn’t want anyone to feel they were misled,” she says. “This book is written from my perspective. I am a Christian and feel it is important that readers understand that going in. That being said, I have received feedback from women of other faiths that my message can easily be applied to whatever faith exists in the lives of young women everywhere.”

In fact, the subtitle of the newest edition (a reprint was published in October of this year) indicates that the content provides “practical wisdom for professional Christian women and those who want to understand them.”  The change was made after receiving feedback from many outside of her target audience of “young, professional Christian women.” Older women, perhaps purchasing her book as a gift to their granddaughters, often share how much this book would have helped them as they began their careers. Men have written to convey a greater understanding of the women in their lives after reading the book. One email from a woman of Hindu faith indicated how relevant Diane’s message was to her simply by applying the principles to her own belief system.

Finding Fulfillment
So, let’s recap. Diane Paddison has reached the pinnacle of her career. She reaps the rewards of a marriage built on values and open, honest communication. She has managed to raise her children to become productive, grounded adults with shared values – a feat not without its challenges. She volunteers her time to her communities. She stays active in her church. And, let’s not forget she works out every morning!

So how does she do it all and what makes her special? The secret is that she doesn’t do it all, not all at once. She does those things most important to her at any given time in her life. “We have a lot of time in our lives to do so many things, but precious little time to raise our children,” she warns. “From 1985 to 2007, I really focused on my family and my work. You can’t get that time back. Now that our youngest is off to college, I devote more time to other areas of my life. If I’m not working on a board or with Cassidy Turley, I’m working on 4word.”

“We are real women. Facing real issues. In the real world. On the one hand, inspiring. In turn, being inspired. Together, creating a more positive reality, for ourselves and others. We are strong women. Strong in the courage of our convictions, the confidence in our actions and the purpose in our hearts. To know us will be to experience a voice that is respectful, genuine, open, empathetic and honest. Real.” These words are from Alpha Chi Omega’s Declaration of Our Shared Commitment, but could just as easily be written about Diane Paddison. She is your sister. She is a real, strong woman.

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The Lyre, Summer 2012 / Living and Loving Life

Real_Strong_WomenA close-knit family, a high school cheerleader, a sorority legacy, a cheerful personality to match her bouncing red hair—Amanda Ball Richter, a 1999 initiate of the Sigma chapter at the University of Iowa, was the epitome of the all-American college girl. But overnight, she found herself fighting for her life due to the quickly ravaging effects of a freak illness.

Amanda’s story is not one of sadness, but instead, a story of celebration. A loving, thriving mother, wife, friend, daughter—Amanda is proof that life, wonderfully, can and does go on following tragedy.

As an incoming freshman, Amanda immediately decided to go through recruitment.  Following in her older sister’s footsteps, she joined  Alpha Chi Omega and jumped right in for all the sorority-life offerings.  She lived in the chapter house and ran for the executive board position of vice president finance.  She befriended all of the women in her chapter and wore her letters everywhere.  Her grades were good, her spirit was bright—the college experience was looking very good for Amanda.

As she approached her junior year, Amanda decided to take advantage of the study abroad opportunity made available to students through the university.  Wanting to have a better understanding of her Irish roots, she chose Ireland for her semester-long getaway.  Although it was difficult to leave her family and friends behind, on New Year’s Day 2002, she packed her things and made her away across the Atlantic to the Emerald Isle.

Fighting for Her Life

A couple of months had passed since she began her time in Ireland, and it was everything Amanda had imagined it would be.  She made many new friends, learned of her own heritage and culture, and was able to travel other European cities and countries.  Following one such trip to London, Amanda noticed herself having a simple sore throat and a tired feeling. She attributed both to her recent travels.

Spending the evening with her flatmates, Amanda began feeling nauseated, so she went to bed.  The next thing she knew, it was 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and she was in a delirious state.  Amanda has no recollection of the weeks that followed, and she is only able to recount through stories and experiences told to her by doctors, family and friends.

Her flatmate, another student in the study abroad program, found Amanda passed out in her room—her legs already suffering from septic shock.  She was rushed to the University College Cork Hospital, and her family was notified of her diagnosis, meningococcal septicemia (commonly referred to as meningitis B) with only a five percent chance of surviving through the night.  Amanda was immediately placed in a medically induced coma which ultimately lasted for 18 days.

While in the coma, doctors were able to treat the meningococcal septicemia; however, the excessive use of antibiotics wreaked their own havoc.  Due to the illness and the necessary treatment, the flesh on Amanda’s legs was eaten away and she experienced failures in almost every organ of her body.  Luckily, her brain and heart remained untouched.

When Amanda finally awoke, she found her mother, father and the high school sweetheart who would become her husband at her bedside.  Nurses asked many questions in order to analyze Amanda’s mental state, and fortunately, she had no discernible difficulties.  She was, however, unaware of her own physical state.

Amanda remembers, “The skin on my hands was black and peeling like a snake…I had massive muscle and tendon loss in my legs.  Without bandages, the bone was exposed.  I didn’t know what to talk about with people; it was all very surreal.”

Following the coma, she stayed in the hospital for an additional four weeks.  Then, she was transferred to the University of Chicago Hospital for five weeks—where she underwent multiple surgeries and skin grafts and suffered from a pulmonary embolism—and finally, to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for three weeks.

Amazed by her own recovery, Amanda looks back on the doctors who meant so much to her.  “The doctors in Ireland saved my life.  I hope to go back some day to thank them.  Dr. Song [my plastic surgeon at the University of Chicago Hospital] saved my legs.  Dr. Song gave me my individuality…I was me again.”

Amanda’s recovery was far from over; she was still wheelchair bound, undergoing rehabilitation, had to wear a purse-like bag containing the items needed to increase blood flow to her legs while removing unwanted fluids, and was met with constant questions for which she never knew how to answer.  But with her own willingness and determination, she returned to the University of Iowa in fall 2002 to continue her collegiate career.  And in spring 2004, Amanda received her diploma by walking across the graduation stage—albeit with a cane.

A Sisterhood of Support

“While in Ireland, I was the one with the most mail.  Every day, I received cards in the mail from sisters.  Some I was close to, some I was not.  Opening the mail, I could actually see a progression within myself.  I could actually open the envelopes myself.”

Not only had Amanda’s sisters sent letters, cards and more during her hospital stay in Ireland, but once home, the women made sure Amanda missed out on nothing of her senior year.  “I had over 100 girls supporting me.  For senior night, they made sure to push me from stop to stop, so I was able to join in.”

Amanda attributes many of her life- and career-skills to her time with the chapter, and she stays in contact with her sisters to this day.

Her Happy Ending

Today, Amanda is happily married and the mother of one, with another on the way.  She serves as a financial planner with World Kitchen and, in her own words, is “living the life I always dreamed of.”

Her scars, walking cane, ankle splints and existing medical needs serve as a reminder of the obstacles she has had to overcome and those she will overcome, but they do not get in her way.

For instances when her scars seem to be getting her down, she tries to stay as positive as she can.  “I find a way to make it work,” she says.  “Bad things happen sometimes.  What matters is how you handle it afterwards.  Just being able to live the life I always wanted after being so close to death and with my physical issues, that’s my success.”

Words of Wisdom

At the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis, Amanda celebrated her first “life party.”  Celebrating the day that changed her life, 2012 marks her tenth anniversary.  With this milestone, she hopes to share with others in order to provide further awareness of the illness and its symptoms.

“Meningitis kills in 24 hours; I was already 20 hours along when I arrived at the hospital.  I couldn’t save myself.  You have to look out for each other.”

And to all her Alpha Chi Omega sisters, alumna and collegiate alike, who may be dealing with their own grief, she urges, “Lean on people.  Reach out.  Talk to people to work through your feelings.  It is the only way to work through the problem.  Stay positive, because life really does go on.”

Amanda Ball Richter resides in the Jefferson Park area of Chicago, Illinois, with her husband, Ryan, and two-year-old daughter, Andrea.  They look forward to the arrival of their second child this July.  Amanda may be reached at abrichter@gmail.com.  For further information on the causes, symptoms and complications of meningitis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov or the National Meningitis Association website at nmaus.org.

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Being Her Own Advocate

314579_2324257259329_1036530036_32662837_1047868861_nby Rachel Horn
(Epsilon, University of Southern California)

One day last October I walked into my parents’ apartment to see my father excitedly waving a magazine at me. I squinted to see the title, and chuckled: The Lyre. My dad had once again read through Alpha Chi’s magazine.  As I looked harder at the cover, however, I realized there was a reason he was so pumped about this particular issue. The main story caught my eye: “Rebecca Holmes: Taking Control of Her Health and Future.”

I spent the next few minutes reading Rebecca’s story about her family history of breast cancer and her decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy. The timing was impeccable; I had just learned about my mother’s second breast cancer diagnosis and our BRCA2 mutation. This genetic mutation had suddenly upped my risk of breast cancer to as high as 87%, and I was strongly considering a prophylactic mastectomy.

Rebecca’s story spoke to me on multiple levels. I could relate to the pain of watching a relative suffer from cancer, and I also understood Rebecca’s fears for the future. The following line regarding her surgery really hit me: “On August 12…the day a life was taken from me, I would be giving a life to my children. It could not have been a more poignant, beautiful day.” So powerful!

I was only 21 when I found out about my BRCA2 mutation and certainly had no immediate plans to have kids, but I still felt concerned for my future: my future health, my future career, and my future family. Breast cancer, it seemed, was inevitable. My mother had been diagnosed twice and she was just 58. It was only a matter of time before I would have to put my career on hold and tell my children that I was sick.

Or would I?

Like Rebecca, I elected to have a prophylactic mastectomy. I was encouraged by her story and the stories of other women, and I wanted to take control of my health and my future. A mastectomy would dramatically reduce my risk of breast cancer. My mastectomy was on March 13, 2012.

Before committing to the surgery, I made sure I was informed. I was fortunate to have a very talented and personable medical team. After she found out about my BRCA2 mutation, my genetic counselor explained my options, such as chemoprevention and surveillance. When I told her I was leaning towards a prophylactic mastectomy, she laid out all of the facts and figures and provided me with resources.

My doctors—a breast surgeon and a plastic surgeon—were also very supportive. They kept active with emails, even responding to my random questions at 1 am! They encouraged my questions and gave me honest answers instead of sugarcoating or dumbing-down their responses.

I also sought out support from young women who had gone through a mastectomy. An organization called Bright Pink put me in contact with a mentor. My mentor was in her twenties (like me) and had opted for a prophylactic mastectomy a few years before. Her information was invaluable; it was priceless knowledge that could only be provided by a person who had gone through her own mastectomy. My mentor’s support helped me overcome the physical and emotional struggles that accompanied my surgery.

Through all of my research and conversations, I affirmed that the prophylactic mastectomy was the right decision for me. And when it came time to defend my choice to others, I was backed by my research.

No one told me flat out that they were against my decision to have a mastectomy, but I did face opposition and questions, particularly from older generations. People often said I was rushing into it, or they asked why I didn’t “wait to see what happens” with cancer research. These questions were sometimes frustrating, but I knew that it might seem completely ludicrous for a perfectly healthy 21-year-old to have a mastectomy.

I had to explain to people the science behind the decision, letting them know about the BRCA2 mutation and how it was responsible for my mother’s breast cancer. “If I live long enough and have enough breast tissue, I will get breast cancer,” I often said. I told them that insurance companies were legally required to provide breast reconstruction for mastectomy patients. And I shared my personal ideology and fears with them, saying that I wasn’t prepared to sit idly and wait for a miracle breast cancer cure that might not come in time for me.

Once they heard my logic, people couldn’t argue. After all, no one was forcing a mastectomy on me and I certainly wasn’t trying to force a mastectomy on anyone else; it was a decision I made myself—an informed decision.

I can’t stress enough the importance of research and getting the facts. No illness or body is exactly the same for each person; everyone has the right to special treatment and decisions tailored to their unique needs. But you are your own advocate, and unless you speak up for yourself, someone else might try to make an important choice for you.

If I hadn’t used all of the resources at my disposal (the Internet, my genetic counselor and doctors, my mentor, books) I might have never gone forward with my mastectomy. I could still be wallowing in fear at the daunting risk associated with my BRCA2 mutation instead of actively planning for my future.

My prophylactic mastectomy allowed me to turn a potential death sentence into a story of hope. Through my blog, Ticking Time Bombs, I wish to assist other high-risk women as they make their own choices regarding their breast health. After all, I couldn’t have made my decision without the priceless information I learned from women like Rebecca Holmes, who were brave enough to share their stories.

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The Lyre, Spring 2012 / Reinventing Herself…From Scratch

RSWAs a freshman at American University, Corina Testa Elgart, a 1995 Beta Rho initiate, had her future completely planned. She was to study law, become a criminal defense attorney at a top firm, make lots of money, and live a very busy yet gratifying life. Fortunately for her, fate had some different plans. Even with some bumps in the road, Corina became exactly who she wanted to be—a woman of goals, accomplishment and reinvention.

Wanting to help the underdogs of the world, Corina Testa Elgart began her college career with the strict mindset of becoming a criminal defense attorney. She enjoyed all of her classes and made wonderful contacts—all of which reassured her choice in career. Following graduation, Corina received a prestigious job offer, and a salary to match, from a law firm in Washington D.C. Not only was she rising in her field and at such a young age, but all of her dreams were coming true.

As time passed, Corina continued to climb. Working alongside the D.C. Federal Public Defender, she was a part of high-profile national and international cases such as kidnappings and mass murders. She worked 14-hour days in high-tension arenas, and she was thriving.

In fall 2003, Corina met her husband and thoughts of family began to cross her mind. Her career was booming and she was on a great financial path. Was she willing to give up her success? Was she willing to put off having a family? That winter, her decision was made for her.

Out of Her Control

To help with her father-in-law who had become increasingly ill, she and her husband moved from the fast-paced, big-city life they had created for themselves to a life of Long Island suburbia. The culture change was a shock to not only her profession, but her personal life as well. Although she had grown up in the area and her family was close, her life had been built in Washington D.C. She had no ties to Long Island and, there, she had no individuality. She only saw herself as her husband’s wife.

She began a short-lived position with the Federal Defender’s Office in their Long Island branch, but her life still lacked the passion and excitement she had experienced and had gotten used to while living in Washington D.C. Unmotivated and bored, she needed to do something just for herself.

Trying something brand new, Corina dabbled in small business ownership and began consulting for local bridal needs. She remembers, “I went from being with people on the worst days of their lives to the best day of their lives.”

In December 2005, the birth of her first child, a son named Jasper, began her slow-down. She wanted to be with him more, and subsequently, her work began to lessen. By the birth of her second child in January 2008, a Daughter named Domenica, Corina found that she was staying home more and more. Working was no longer in the schedule.

During her second pregnancy, Corina developed anxiety. Her Doctor suggested that she was showing early signs of postpartum depression. She did not want to rely on medication, so she sought alternative remedies. To her amazement, some flour, eggs, vanilla and sugar seemed to do the trick.

Finding Herself On Her Own Terms

From a strong Italian background, cooking was definitely in her genes. Baking, however, was not. Following videos on YouTube, reading recipes in magazines and replicating online photos, Corina attempted one dessert recipe after another, but creating the perfect tasting vanilla cake was her focus. For months, her husband would come home every night to a lineup of cakes, just for his tasting pleasure, until they found one that topped the rest.

“I loved how exact the baking instructions were. My anxiety was gone. It calmed my Type A personality down to an A- .”

Watching her kids during the day, she began night classes at the local culinary school. She remembers, “When I wasn’t at school, I was practicing at home. I was truly finding myself. Who knew I could bake! I sure didn’t. I loved it, and I was good at it. I found a new passion and something just for me. Not my kids or my husband, just me.”

The Start of Something Big

As her time at the culinary school came to a close, an internship was the last piece before graduation. Disillusioned by the common practices of other area bakeries, Corina took a step back. She was continuously told that the part of baking that made her so happy—the use of fresh, measured ingredients—was not practiced by local bakeries. Using premade and premixed ingredients was how everyone was doing it, but it made her question her own values and standards. She felt it was cheating and left customers misinformed. Was she in this just to make money? No. Was she looking for convenience? No. She knew her passion, and she needed to follow it.

Corina soon opened her own “shop” out of her home and vowed to stay true to her own wants, needs and strengths. She vowed to take no shortcuts, and everything from her cakes and cupcakes to her own hard work was to be done from scratch. Through word-of-mouth, Corina’s home-based business was a local sensation.

“Our entire kitchen transformed into a little bake shop. I can remember me and my husband staying up until 2 a.m. to make fondant bows and Sesame Street figurines. It was all trial and error, but we were getting orders for five, six cakes per week!”

In 2010, Corina finally moved her little business out of her home and to a more permanent facility—a cottage of only 400 square feet in Syossett, New York. Her bake shop was aptly named TASTE: It’s In The Cake.

Battling the Competition and the Public

As TASTE was opening, Corina received the news that any pastry chef would love to hear: she had been cast in a reality show hosted by, none other than the “Cake Boss” himself, Buddy Valastro. Surprised that she would even be considered, questioning her own skills in comparison to the others, excited for the possible business publicity, Corina had no idea what she was getting into. But with her husband’s support, she went for it. That fall, she began filming on TLC’s “Cake Boss: Next Great Baker.”

Her bake shop was closed for three weeks, and she was unable to see her family. Although she was able to call her husband and parents each night, she was incredibly lonely and exhausted. Public opinion did not help matters.

At first her only worries were how she would physically look on television, she had no idea she would be criticized for her character and personality. Although there were many fans for whom Corina inspired, she was also given a spoonful of cyber bullying.

“I got painted as a stereotypical Italian girl from Long Island, hot tempered, nasty and loud…The show was great for my business, but it tested my personal strength. I was exposed to America the way T.V. wanted me to be seen. And let me tell you, America has loud opinions, and they are not afraid to share them. When you’re on national television, viewers believe only what they’re shown. Viewers were harsh and attacked me as a person, questioning my ability to be a mother and a business owner. I got hate-mail and the blogs, Facebook and other social media networks flowed with degrading comments that were brutal and hard to read. Having battled my share of bullies growing, up I knew this feeling all too well; I thought the days of people making me feel badly about myself were over. While the show was airing I felt like I was in middle school all over again.”

Rather than crying and feeling helpless, Corina turned it into something positive. She used her status as a finalist in the competition series to give back. She and her husband had “team Corina” T-shirts made for the final episode and donated 100 percent of the proceeds to “Stomp Out Bullying.” She wanted to take her experience and use it to empower people to be who they are and to be proud of their talents and passions in life. Today she is an anti-bullying advocate and hopes to someday form her own anti-bullying organization locally.

Having It All

Although the route may be a little different than others, at the heart of things, Corina is still a small business owner who just wanted to find herself and be able to set a positive example for her children. Like what so many other women across the country have experienced, what she believed at the age of 18 to be her calling, was just a stepping stone to finding her true passion in life: family and cake.

Today, Corina works five to six days every week, and loves it. And as for her earlier thoughts of having to choose between a career that she loves or having a family: When someone asks, “How do you do it?” She responds, “Do you walk into my husband’s office and ask how he does it? We make it work, we figure it out! If you want something bad enough you’ve gotta fight for it. With heart, drive and passion, you can have it all. Hard work, confidence and determination go a long way.”

Corina Testa Elgart, her husband Keith, and their two children reside in Huntington, New York. For further discussion on starting your own business or for opportunities to speak out against bullying, Corina may be reached through cakesbytaste.com or on Facebook.  Photo provided by Lightful Photography LLC, lightfulphotography.com.

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The Lyre, Winter 2011 / Breaking the Silence: Speaking Her Truth

Real Strong Women Seinquis Slater, a 2008 initiate of the Alpha Pi chapter at the University of North Dakota, was a typical college woman—studying hard during the day and having too much fun at night.  Then, following a devastating sexual assault, her life turned upside down.  Now, Seinquis is a healthy, thriving graduate student and advocate against assault and violence.  This is her story.

Originally from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Seinquis Slater moved to the small town of Minot, North Dakota at the age of 7, as her grandfather’s military assignment required the move.  Minot and the people of the area quickly became her home.  When the time came to choose a college to attend, Seinquis decided to stay close.  Her freshman year at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks began in fall 2007.

Starting her college experience just as any typical 18-year-old would—excited, having fun, making mistakes, enjoying her freedom— Seinquis moved into campus housing; became as involved in extracurricular activities as possible; and, in the following spring, joined the Alpha Pi chapter of Alpha Chi Omega.  She found herself, at times, struggling with time management, but Seinquis kept her grades up, finishing the year with a 4.0 GPA.  She expected her second year to be no different.

How Everything Changed

As her sophomore year began, Seinquis was asked to participate in a friend’s wedding.  So, in October 2008, Seinquis found herself flying to Alaska for the nuptials, looking forward to every minute.  Following the ceremony, the reception was definitely a party—food, dancing and a lot of alcohol.

Admittedly, Seinquis was underage and well beyond any smart alcohol consumption limit.  She could not control her actions, nor could she hold herself up.  Stumbling into the women’s restroom alone, she collapsed inside one of the stalls.  When another member of the wedding party, the best man, came into the restroom, it seemed as if he was trying to help her.  As others came into the restroom, he spoke on her behalf, telling them that she was fine and that he was taking care of her.  Seinquis was so intoxicated, she was unable to speak.

When she woke up the next morning, she remembered very little of the reception.  But as the morning went on, memories of the night before began to flash in her mind.  She had not been safe in the restroom.  The best man had not been taking care of her.  Even with many others unknowingly in attendance, she had been raped.

Her Silence

When she spoke of the incident to a friend at the wedding, Seinquis’s claims were dismissed, and she was told she simply had drank too much.  With resonating doubt, she told no one else.

Throughout the semester, Seinquis withdrew from friends, family and priorities.  Her GPA dropped to a 2.0 and she was not handling pressure well. Knowing she had to “get better,” she focused on the only thing that did not need emotions:  school.  In spring 2009, Seinquis threw herself into her studies.  Wake up; go to class; go home; study; go to bed.  This was her routine, keeping her distracted and busy.  Her grades improved, but Seinquis did not.

Recognizing she was unhealthy, her boyfriend at the time encouraged her to seek counseling.  Reluctant because she did not believe there was a problem, she agreed and began counseling at the University of North Dakota Counseling Center.  A year following the incident, the counselor diagnosed Seinquis with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Seinquis remembers, “It is the hardest thing to tell someone that loves you, that you have been sexually assaulted.  But being able to talk with the counselor definitely helped.”

Speaking Out

As the counseling sessions continued, Seinquis began to share her ordeal with friends and family, and she began to quietly advocate for the campus Women’s Center.  Seinquis was encouraged to speak out to others—other young women who may be in the same situation—but she was afraid.  Finally building up the courage, in October 2010, Seinquis spoke of her ordeal and the scope of feelings that she experienced and was still experiencing during the university’s Take Back the Night rally.

Seinquis remembers, “I was scared out of my mind, but I got on stage, told my story with every detail and encouraged women to break the silence.  Afterwards, people sent me messages on Facebook and emailed me, wanting to talk about their stories.  The Counseling Center even had an increase in women coming to them.”

With her newfound empowerment, Seinquis offered support by listening to other women as they spoke of their ordeals, and by helping with domestic violence awareness opportunities through her Alpha Chi Omega chapter.  And although she feels strong now thanks to her efforts toward others, speaking to her friends and family about the incident, and finally coming to terms that it was not her fault, Seinquis knows that this will be a life-long struggle.

“You’re never over it.  You never don’t have the associated feelings.  But it is how you cope with those feelings that lets you move on.”

Seinquis graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology.  By the time of her graduation, Seinquis had been involved in student government; the university’s curriculum committee, essential studies committee and Greek life coordinator search committee; Panhellenic council, the North Dakota Student Association; Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity; and much more.  Among her many honors, Seinquis was named a NASPA Undergraduate Rising Star by the student affairs administrators in higher education, was given Student of the Month recognition by the University of North Dakota, was awarded the ALANA H.O.P.E (Helping Our People Excel) Award by the University of North Dakota’s multicultural student services, and was awarded the Gordon Henry Award by the University of North Dakota’s Greek life.  Seinquis is currently pursuing a master’s in educational leadership, and she is employed full-time with the University of North Dakota as a traveling representative for enrollment services.

Her Regrets

When asked whether or not she ever confronted the man, Seinquis stated, “I have never confronted him.  At the time, I didn’t want the bride to think less of me or him. I was not ready for the confrontation.  I thought that if I never saw him again, I would get over it.  Yes, I do wish I had said something, but by the time I realized this, I felt like it was too late.”  Unfortunately, this is not her only regret.

“Many underage women are offered alcohol depending on the situation they’re in.  My advice to those women would be: just don’t do it.  If you choose to though, really know the people you are around and be able to trust those you surround yourself with.  I learned this too late.”

Advice to Others

Now, three years following her ordeal, Seinquis maintains that speaking out against, or just speaking to someone, period, is the best advice she can give to anyone in the same situation.
“Break the silence.  You are going to encourage others and help yourself, even if you do not realize it right then.”

And to her Alpha Chi Omega sisters who are in their darkest times, Seinquis encourages that “through the best of time or worst of times, ‘Together let us seek the heights’ truly has so much meaning.  Talk to and lean on your sisters when you need someone to listen; they will be there for you.  When I was down, I always new tomorrow would be a better day because I had a family of women who understood what I was going through and were willing to help me.  Always stand up for yourself; communicate with your sisters, friends and family; and never give up on your life goals, no matter which obstacles you face.”

To learn more about counseling options for those who have experienced sexual assault and/or other abuse, please visit womenshealth.gov.  To learn more about Take Back the Night and to find a rally in your area, visit takebackthenight.org.