Has cancer changed my career? Um, yes.
Another layer to this question is when did it change my career?
Let me take you back in time to my dreams and aspirations as a young kid from Westlake, OH. All of my childhood years, there was nothing else I wanted to do except play football. There were, of course, other sports that I played along the way, but being a 6’2”, 275 pound kid in high school, it was pretty obvious what sport I was going to play.
Plus, I REALLY loved hitting other humans. On the field, of course…
I played varsity football all four years of high school and lettered three of those years. I truly thought I had a shot at this being my career.
Long story short: no.
I was recruited by Division 1 schools such as Missouri, Kent State, and Syracuse. None of them turned out to be serious considerations. I quickly turned my attention to the Division 2 and 3 levels. I ended up at a school at Mercyhurst College (now University).
I quickly realized that football wasn’t in the cards for me from a career standpoint and after the first season decided to walk away from the sport I loved so much.
I always had a passion for announcing sports. I dabbled a bit in high school doing the play-by-play for some sports and figured, why not? I became friendly with the Sports Radio Director and as quickly as I quit football and that door shut, a new door opened. The second half of my freshman year, I became the play-by-play announcer for ALL Mercyhurst sports—including Division 1 hockey men’s and women’s team, men’s and women’s basketball, and starting my sophomore year, football.
The first game I announced? The women’s hockey conference championship. Oh, and I knew nothing about hockey. Well, not nothing—I knew the puck had to go into a net. That was it.
During my sophomore year, something happened. That something was my brother Steve’s first cancer. Our family went into full on “survival” mode. What does Steve need? Is he going to survive? Why is this happening to him?
All the fun questions that come when a teenager is diagnosed with cancer.
The next three years in college I continued my path to be an announcer one day. I graduated in 2008 and decided I wasn’t quite sure that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to go to graduate school, specifically John Carroll University. It just so happened that Steve was also going to attend John Carroll, but as a freshman, since he also graduated in 2004, but from high school.
I decided on John Carroll because I was offered a graduate assistant position in the communications department—which included free tuition and a stipend. Booyah!
Wouldn’t you know it, not even midway through the first year, Steve is diagnosed with another cancer. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!
Once again, our family goes into survival mode. This time, things were different than the first. A SECOND cancer is terrifying. One is bad enough, but two?
Our mother decided to quit her career as an educator at Cleveland State University as a PhD working in special education to start the Steven G. AYA Cancer Research Fund—which you now know it as the Steven G. Cancer Foundation. We had no idea that it was going to become what it is today—nor did we EVER want it to be what it is today. We just wanted Steve to be healthy.
Fast forward two years after this happened. I got my first full time job at a company called Penton Media. And do you want to know what that job title was? Webinar Coordinator.
Yep, I’ve been running virtual events like this for over 15 years.
I love it. Penton was a business to business media company, or B2B, that owns dozens of publications across different markets such as technology, agriculture, industrial, food, electronics, and so many more.
Over my decade-long career at Penton (which was bought by a UK company called Informa), I became a Solutions Specialist, designing sponsorship programs for strategic clients focusing on content marketing, eventually became the Director of Digital Products for all industrial publications, and then took a turn as a Strategic Account Manager overseeing the west coast. I worked with clients such as Salesforce.com, Adobe, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Avnet, and several more.
I learned so much about the media industry and content marketing. I was having a blast, making a great living, and traveling the country. I even won one of those funny 30 under 30 awards from what was known as Folio Magazine. I was up against the likes of ESPN Magazine, Playboy, The New Yorker, and several others. I became a regular speaker and contributing writer for them—you can even see my picture on their last event from 2019 that is still up by visiting https://archive.foliomag.com/go/2019-folio-show/. I’m the second person from the left on that main image, HA! Good times.
But. Something was always missing.
I never felt completely whole in doing what I did for almost a decade. This isn’t a knock at what I was doing, I just felt their was more that I could be doing.
At one point, I started taking classes to become a special education teacher. I finished a year of the program and realized that teaching in grade school was just not for me. I loved working with kids, but it just didn’t feel right.
What was I going to do next?
On one of my sales trips, I decided to rent a car and drive from St. Louis to Missouri to see a couple of clients. While I was driving, an idea came to me, and wow was it a big one.
Before I tell you what that idea was, one of my friends and mentors, Joe Pulizzi, wrote a book about starting your own company with content. It is called Content Inc. Without stealing any of the thunder from the book (which anyone in content marketing really should run and read this now) it gave me the big idea and helped me find the “niche” for starting a new company and building an audience.
OK, back to the trip across Missouri.
One of the big tips talked about in the book from Pulizzi is finding your niche by knowing what you can be an expert in plus something that you are good at plus—is there a need?
It hit me while driving across the Ozarks.
The niche – AYA Cancer
Expert in AYA cancer – My mom (advocate for over ten years thanks to having a son with two cancers).
Expert in content marketing – Me
What did this all equal?
The day the idea of what would become Elephants and Tea was born.
I immediately called my mom, Angie, and we talked through the idea for hours while I drove. We had our plan. It took about another year to put the wheels in motion, but we figured it out together. And here we are today.
I found my why. I found what I truly wanted to do.
I was able to use my experience from my first career and apply that to creating something as special as Elephants and Tea to help others.
So, did cancer change my career? Did it change my entire life? Yes.
I would not have met my wife and thus not had our daughter Tessie. For those that don’t know that story, Camilla (my wife) was one of Steve’s nurses’ aides. Yes, he set us up. We can share that story on a different day.
I would not be a part of an unbelievable team of humans that I call all dear friends.
I would not have gone into business with my mom.
I would not have gotten to know Steve as well as I have over the past four years.
I am blessed for this opportunity to lead this organization and to have the privilege to work with so many amazing humans. I have made friendships that will last forever.
I am truly grateful.
Thank you to Angie and Harry (mom and dad) for jumping in headfirst with me. Thank you Steve for always allowing me to share your story as inspiration to start Elephants and Tea. And the big one that I don’t talk about enough, thank you to Camilla for looking at me one Friday afternoon and saying, “It’s time to quit your job. We will be just fine.”
Oh, and just to set the record straight, I still hate cancer.
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