#55 Accepting Help is Harder Than Giving It
Maggie Twomey was diagnosed with breast cancer in February right before the world shut down. A volunteer coordinator, Maggie is usually the one coordinating help and helping out where it is needed. Facing this personal health crisis, Maggie reflects on what it feels like to be the one receiving help.
Mentioned in this episode:
- First episode with Maggie Twomey
- Community Stewards Program in Flagstaff (Maggie’s work)
- Theatrikos Theater Company
- Want to start your own podcast or blog? Check out Fizzle
Full Transcript below:
00:00 Maggie Twomey: It was really difficult for me because I’m… That’s what I do. I’m the neighbor that makes a meal train for you. And I had a hard time with that, and it took me a little bit to accept that kind of help.
00:25 Speaker 2: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. Your host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to everyday people about why they do good and what it means to be good.
00:45 Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom: Hello, I’m your host, Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom. The other voice you heard at the top of the episode is our guest for today, Maggie Twomey. Maggie was our first ever guest on the show almost three years ago. At that time we talked about her work as a volunteer coordinator and her early career working in Arena Football. We replayed that episode last week, so if you haven’t had a chance to listen yet, I encourage you to check it out. Maggie is still working as a volunteer coordinator for the city of Flagstaff. For this time, I interviewed Maggi in my backyard on September 16th, 2020. You can hear some lovely bird sounds in the background at times. Like many people, Maggie has had a challenging last seven months. As you’re about to hear, her world turned upside down in February just before everyone else’s lives were disrupted. One quick reminder before the conversation that the show notes for today’s episode are available at dogoodbegoodshow.com and I’ll include links to anything that we talk about in those notes. Thank you for listening to Do Good Be Good. Here is my conversation with Maggie Twomey.
02:03 MT: I was diagnosed on February 5th with breast cancer and scheduled for a mastectomy on March 10th. That was a week before everything really closed down in our community. I was so preoccupied with my diagnosis and training in the person that was gonna cover for me while I was on my FMLA leave and making sure that everything for Earth Day was lined up because it’s my biggest event that I… To be really honest and this is quite embarrassing, I didn’t even know there was a pandemic coming. I went in for surgery on the 10th and I really, I had no idea that what was going on in the world.
02:46 ST: And was that when we did the bike parade for you?
02:49 MT: Yes.
02:49 ST: On March 10th. Okay.
02:51 MT: Yes.
02:52 ST: ‘Cause that was also, I think, the last gathering I went to was March 10th.
02:57 MT: You know it was the… Thank you for coming. That was. Yeah and I think what happened for me during that time when I was so unaware of what was happening in the world, the other piece I was really focusing on when other people heard my devastating news and scary news, they wanted to help. Everybody wanted to help, and here I am being thrown into the role of volunteer coordinator again.
03:23 ST: Right.
03:24 MT: You know. And which was good for me in that space because in that space I was terrified and I didn’t know what to do, and there was so much waiting and you’re relying on all these professionals to make diagnoses and suggestions and treatment plans, and it’s a really helpless feeling. And so I was really grateful to have that to kind of jump into. And so one of the first things I did about a week after my diagnosis is I announced it on Facebook, and I put a list in that announcement. These are ways that you can help me. I need people to… And this… Granted, this was in February so I was really unaware of the pandemic, but you can come and take me for a walk while I’m recovering. You can bring me a meal. You can write me a letter. You can send me a text. You can make a phone call.
04:17 MT: So I gave this list of really specific things that people could do to feel helpful. And then my work group really wanted to be a part of things. And so one person in my office made a meal train and rallied people to sign up, and it was really difficult for me because that’s what I do. I’m the neighbor that makes a meal train for you and I had a hard time with that and it was… It took me a little bit to accept that kind of help. But I think the coolest way that people got to help, and I think that people really might have thought it was silly. I know my dad thought it was kind of silly. I said, “Dad, just wait until you see. Wait until you see. This is what Flagstaff is about.” So my supervisor at work organized a bike parade from my office, on the day of my surgery, to the hospital. There were probably 35 people in that bike parade.
05:22 ST: That’s a good crowd. It was a good crowd.
05:24 MT: And it was cold and rainy. It was cold.
05:27 ST: It was a really good crowd for the weather too.
05:30 MT: For the weather it was a great crowd. It was raining, and people showed up in tutus and with funky wigs and boas and signs and all kinds of things. And I was so afraid to go into the surgery because there was still so much unknown. They weren’t gonna find out what stage the cancer was and what my recovery prognosis would be until after that surgery, and so there was so much unknown, and I’m such a people person on a lot of levels that I just, I needed that rallying support around me. It was perfect. It was… I don’t think I could have asked for anything better. That was…
06:12 ST: We literally had a tunnel.
06:16 MT: A high five tunnel.
06:16 ST: Yeah a high five tunnel running in the [06:17] ____.
06:18 MT: I felt like I was like a pro athlete running out onto a big field.
06:22 ST: It was kind of funny ’cause I feel like we got there a little early and then you were like, “Oh, we still have time.”
06:27 MT: Yeah, I think we did.
06:28 ST: It’s like we did all the high fives and now…
06:29 MT: And now what do we do?
06:31 ST: Right.
06:32 MT: Yeah, no, it was great. And my dad never stopped talking about it. He really… He said to me, I thought that that bike parade idea was really silly until I saw it. And he said it was obvious that it was just what you needed. So, yeah, so going in, I had a lot on my mind, so I wasn’t quite aware of the pandemic, and I really was asking a lot of questions at the end of March and early April of my work team because I was starting to go back to work remotely and like, Well, are there NAU students still here or did they go back? Because they’re a big part of my volunteer corp. What about special events? When do you think we’ll be able to do them again? I can’t imagine what people’s response was because I was such… In such a fog about it, and I think it really didn’t hit me until the first week of April when it really became real to me what was going on and the gravity of the pandemic, and what we as a community needed to do to overcome. And what we still need to do to overcome six months later?
07:50 ST: And being… For the listeners, being here in Arizona by the first week of April, we definitely had full-on rapid spreading caseloads and we were moving up in the area of being a hot spot in the country, I think.
08:06 MT: We were.
08:08 ST: So that’s when I think New York was at their worst, but we were growing and instead of thinking… ‘Cause I remember in mid-March it was like, “Well, let’s shut things down so that we can reopen,” and instead it was like, “Oh no, we’re getting worse, and don’t know when it will re-open, but definitely not mid-April.” And the students weren’t coming back and the school wasn’t coming back and… Yeah.
08:38 MT: No, yeah, I agree with you on that. And I had a second surgery at the end of March, and I wasn’t sure that I was gonna get to have it. In my mind before I spoke to the surgeon, and then the surgeon was like, “No, you’re stage three, you are a priority.” And I have never been whisked in and out of a hospital so quickly. It was… I had got dropped off at the curb and literally when I came out of recovery, they put my duffel bag on the bed and said, “Get dressed, your ride is here.” and I could barely stand up ’cause I was still like all groggy. But, yeah, they weren’t messing around.
09:21 ST: And with all of those things that you had told your friends and family about, I mean, how much of that was still able to happen during your recovery? Did you still have people coming over or bits and pieces?
09:34 MT: I still had… People still brought meals, the meal train piece still came. I had a couple of people back out because they weren’t comfortable, which was completely fine. There weren’t any walks, there weren’t… I did get a lot of mail, which was really fun. I got a lot of text messages and phone calls. I got a really fun gift package from Chelsea, that had a gift to open every day, which was super great. But yeah, a lot of it kinda went by the wayside because it just couldn’t happen. So my husband became my walking buddy.
10:14 ST: I was gonna say, but did your nature of your support team change too, because I imagine your family’s lives had also changed dramatically in a way you weren’t expecting?
10:23 MT: Yeah. My husband was able to stay home to help me with my recovery, but that was planned anyway, and then he was able to extend his stay as well, which was very helpful. But yeah, it was very different because the kids were home and I’m so grateful they’re in high school. [chuckle] Yeah, it did… The vision I had for recovering from this surgery ended up being very different, it just looked really different, but it was okay. And it taught me a lot about, again, more lessons learned about working with volunteers. Even though these are my friends and my family and my neighbors, it was still a volunteer opportunity. And I think the important lesson that I learned is it’s so much better when working with volunteers to give them options, because as I said in my first podcast with you, people volunteer for so many different reasons and they get so many or different fulfillment out of it. Necessarily what I need to have happen for the work that they’re doing might not fit with what they wanna give. And so, giving options is always… There’s more than one way to get the job done oftentimes.
11:58 ST: Yeah, I had loved what you put out there so much and it struck me because I learned some of what I know about volunteer management and giving and receiving help from my mom, who is a natural networker and very much a people person, but she also dealt with my sister having cancer when she was very young, and my mom was able to take off of work and be a full-time caregiver for… My sister ended up in her cancer battle for three and a half years, and during that time, my mom ended up managing people’s help.
12:41 MT: Yes.
12:43 ST: Which that was one of the things she taught me is, like if you are wanting to help someone else, from her own experience of knowing how much it takes to manage other people’s help, she’s always tried to teach me to just help. Don’t say, “How can I help?” Just pick something that you think could be helpful, and if you want, if you’re nervous and not sure if it’ll be helpful, you can say, “I could bring dinner over on Tuesday at 6:00 PM, would that be okay?” Be specific and give something targeted that you think will be helpful and then let them adjust from there. But don’t just leave it open-ended because, yeah, the process of being the person who needs to accept help and then needing to manage all the people who wanna give you help can be a lot.
13:33 MT: It really can, and I think that’s something that I’ve learned. I know during my lifetime, I have oftentimes been the person that said, “Sharon, how can I help you? Just call me, call me. Whenever you need something, just call me.” Instead of… I think that’s what I’ve learned as well, is that it’s so much better to just do, just do. And you know that polite midwestern person in me, that’s been a struggle. I’ve been much more successful by just doing.
14:09 ST: Did you learn anything in this about how to receive help?
14:12 MT: Yeah, I did, and I think what I’ve learned is to just say, “Thank you.” Just be, and just say, “Thank you” and look the person in the eyes and just know that they really mean it. They wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. And I think sometimes receiving help is tied to our self-worth, and are we worthy of receiving from somebody? I think the older I get, the less worried about that I get and the more accepting, and I think understanding of that it feels good for you to help me. You get something out of it too. So I’m really giving to you by accepting it. That took me a long time to change my thinking about that. I think a long time ago I would have not accepted help.
15:17 ST: I’m gonna pause just a moment to remind you that the transcript of today’s episode is available at dogoodbegoodshow.com as well as links to anything that we mentioned. If you’re interested in podcasting, blogging or starting an online business, I recommend Fizzle. That is where I learned the technical skills necessary to bring you this story. You can find a referral link in the show notes, with that link, you will get a month of courses, coaching and community for just $1. Using the link will also help to support the show. You can also support the show by sharing it with a friend or family member. Now, back to my conversation with Maggie.
16:02 MT: I had a really difficult April because that was when I had to call it for Earth Day and say, “We’re not doing it.”
16:09 ST: So you were going back to work, working from home, I presume?
16:13 MT: Yes.
16:13 ST: And suddenly realizing the severity of the pandemic and the restrictions and needing to change how you did things for work?
16:25 MT: Yeah, it was challenging. I still had somebody at the office who was covering for a lot of my event things. So I was mostly communicating with that person. I started to be worried about my job. Event Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator, like how are we gonna make this work? How are we gonna justify this position? It turns out there’s always virtual events, which we’ve tried a few of them and not been very successful, but we’re getting so much better at it, and I think that everybody can probably say the same. I don’t know if it reaches the same population, which is okay. I think that’s something that we’ve learned with our events. We’ve opened up opportunities for people who… Like for example, if we have an evening workshop event, somebody has children and can’t find child care or can’t bring their children to the event, all of a sudden we have an online workshop that they can do after the kids go to bed. So I think that we’ve manifested a whole another group of people that we can reach with our messages and our work.
17:40 ST: When you were cancelling Earth Day and trying to rethink what was possible, I’m curious if you… Being from the side of strategic planning and stuff, I’m curious if you sort of went back to first principles about, “Why does Earth Day exist?” [chuckle] “What are we usually hoping to achieve and how do we design something that meets the same goals?”
18:07 MT: We ended up waiting pretty long into April before we cancelled it. There’s not really a way to host Earth Day virtually, it’s an event with 60 vendors and live music, and so it was hard to let it go because it is the biggest event we host every year. That process of accepting that was hard for me. I didn’t really go through a process of why do we do it, and I think my process was more along the lines of, we’ve been doing this event for over 15, probably closer to 20 years, are we gonna be able to skip a year, or maybe two depending on how this goes?
18:52 ST: Yeah.
18:53 MT: And are we gonna be able to bring it back and is it gonna be okay, or is it gonna look really different?
19:00 ST: Yeah, it’s interesting ’cause I’m on the board for the community theater. And that’s been an interesting question to ponder in the theater realm is like why do we do theater and is there an aspect of theater that we can do virtually that is worth doing? And we’re moving to some virtual performances, and there certainly are some aspects of theater that can be translated into the virtual environment, but there is something wholly unique about live theater in-person that cannot be replicated virtually. There’s a different thing that’s online theater, and it also has merit, but it’s not the same. Personally it makes me appreciate what live theater in-person really is and miss it, of course. Maybe part of what you got from needing to cancel the Earth Day was rather than replacing it. I mean, I think there are things that are worth the creative thought on how do we do them differently, and then there’s other things that we just gain so much more appreciation for what they were as they were. And yeah, and we sort of respectfully put them on hold until we can come back to them.
20:32 ST: Maggie has one more amazing story about her cancer recovery that I asked her to share.
20:37 MT: I rode my bike to every radiation appointment that I had, which was over 300 miles, and they don’t have a bike rack. Flagstaff is a bicycle friendly community.
20:52 ST: And they’re a big supporter of Bike To Work Week. They always have big Bike To Work Week banners.
20:54 MT: Yeah the hospital is. Yes. And so my thought was that I would love to do a small fundraiser to buy a bike rack for the Cancer Center because just because I have stage three breast cancer doesn’t mean I don’t love riding my bike. I got commended by the radiologist and the oncologist and all the doctors there for riding my bike as often as I did. They said, “You’re gonna heal faster. It helps with your mental health,” and all these benefit. I have not launched that campaign yet but stay tuned.
21:31 ST: Thank you for listening to Do Good Be Good, and thank you, Maggie, so much for being a guest on the show and sharing your story. For show notes on all of the episodes, visit dogoodbegoodshow.com. To subscribe to the podcast for free so that you get each episode as soon as it is released, search for Do Good Be Good in Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Music, or your podcast app of choice. This podcast was produced, recorded, and edited by me. Music in this episode is Bathed in Fine Dust by Andy G. Cohen, released under Creative Commons Attribution International license and discovered in the Free Music Archive. Until next week, this is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom signing off.