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Speaker Series: Amanda Clark, Founder of Cocktails & Chemo

Oct 24th, 2019

Author: Heather Lowey

“I have a sad story. I am NOT a sad story.”

The struggle is real figuring out how to put into words what our emotions went through on Wednesday morning in hearing Amanda’s incredible story of love, resilience, and self-re-birth. 

Amanda, thank you. Thank you for sharing not only your story, but you. The raw you with pure honesty in your thoughts and feelings through each part of your grieving and growing process. While you are clearly a very talented TV news host and marketing executive, you have an incredible knack in public speaking for engaging an audience and keeping us laughing through humor while simultaneously crying in tragedy. Incredible. 

HERE TO BE MORE

Amanda was born with not only big dreams but also always a plan to make them come true. As a child, she would lie in bed and dream of her future life and then strategize the how in achievement. Vision board? Check. Even now, her 2019 vision board lead her to captivating us with her story as a Linking Indy Women speaker. (I speak for all of us when I say, we’re glad you stalked Ally!)

After a short stint as a Musical Theatre major in college, she chose a different degree mostly because the lifestyle of struggling artist did not resonate with her. Journalism with her first job out of college being a market 83 TV reporter at $19,000 a year was more like it! (As her grandmother gasps!!) 

Her dream of making it out of Indiana was achieved. The metropolis of Champaign, IL loved their newest lead reporter and life was going according to Amanda’s plan. A call from an old friend changed things. Joe, her college boyfriend’s roommate, and his business partner stayed with her for a three-week training they attended in her city. While Amanda’s initial thought was dread, the homecooked meals, house cleaning, and companionship shared during this time quickly gave way to devastation when the training ended. 

Off to Florida Joe went. 

NEW BEGINNINGS

Resumes from Amanda randomly made their way to a focused area in Florida shortly after Joe’s departure. It worked! She landed a job in Orlando working for a market 18 TV station. This also fulfilled her dream of working in a top 20 market! Check. Check. 

A year later, Joe proposed. Life seemed to be back on track to fulfilling Amanda’s plan. Two months before the nuptials, Joe came down with what she would describe initially as a man cold. However, as things progressed, they made an ER visit. 

A GAME OF JENGA

The immediate energy shift of the doctors and nurses at the hospital was so extreme, Amanda felt it to her core. While the staff spoke directly to her, they were just floating words in a sea of confusion. 

Mass                Lymph nodes              Surgery            Cancer             Options

“What are they talking about? I am a planner and know exactly how I want my life to be. This isn’t part of the plan. NO! Nope. Not happening.”

It was cancer. Joe was 28. Amanda and Joe still got married but had to cancel their honeymoon to St. Lucia in order for Joe to begin treatments. Cancer had officially pulled out the bottom block in her neatly stacked Jenga game of life.  

COCKTAILS & CHEMO

As the just worn wedding dress hung in the car in the hospital parking lot, Joe began chemo. Amanda had to figure out a way to move forward in this fog of what her life had suddenly become. She began writing as if she were a sideline reporter for their story. What started as a therapeutic exercise for long days at the hospital, quickly evolved into a blog named Cocktails & Chemo. 

The blog centered around the thoughts and feelings of a caregiver of a loved one going through chemo. It gave Amanda the time and space to get out those feelings of frustration and tell her story in a way that gave her control. Joe enjoyed the process as well and helped create content and pushed for new posts to be put out to their growing audience. 

HAPPY TIMES?

Joe had clear scans for one year when they found out Amanda was expecting their daughter Mira (short for Miracle). The very next day, Joe’s cancer was back. Although devastating news, their Cocktails & Chemo community were incredible cheerleaders through the entire process. 

Eventually, Amanda decided she needed to leave her job as a reporter to be able to afford the time to her family. It was a strange mix of emotions including shame over leaving a job when she was by nature a career woman. At the same time, a sense of relief. 

Six months later, Joe passed at 31 years of age. Mira was 11 months old. 

Amanda now found herself a widow, single mom, and unemployed. None of which were part of any vision board she imagined for her life. 

KEEP MOVING FORWARD

Amanda realized she had to figure out a way to move forward. She googled HOW TO START A NON-PROFITand jumped in. Cocktails & Chemo is now not only a blog, but also a support provider caring for the caregivers. She wanted to help those feeling alone and even provide a way for those wanting to support a caregiver with a means to do so. 

Cocktails & Chemo now has over 21 thousand followers and provides support and care packages to 1,500 people a year!! 

Amanda still found herself feeling stuck and sorry for herself and Mira. A turning point came when one of Mira’s kindergarten friends gave her a different lens. After a playdate, Mira’s friend went home to her own parents and expressed how she was envious of Mira because she “gets to be with her Mom ALL the time!” After the mother shared this with Amanda, she came into a new frame of mind. She is now owning her story and flipping the script to focus on what they have, not what they have lost.

THOUGHTS TO LIVE BY

Amanda left us with some amazing thoughts to live by:

  • Time doesn’t always heal. Counseling helps her “get out the crazy” so she can have fun times with friends. 
  • When consoling a friend through loss, admitting you are scared and unsure of how to approach them is a great approach. It opens the conversation and allows the griever to know you are there for them but also unsure and need some guidance on what would serve them best. 
  • Listing out her intentions and what she wants to accomplish the next day before she goes to bed helps push her through anxiety. 
  • Focus on what you have, not what you have lost. 
  • Sometimes you have to change the people around you. Build your own community. 

“The people you think are the most inspiring have walked through the darkest.”

Want to connect with Amanda? Find her on Instagram @amandaevansclark or @cocktailsandchemo. Or visit www.cocktailsandchemo.org