Aug 10 2016

Cucumbers, Lard and Live Chickens – Philanthropy in 1925

The scene was 1925. World War I had ended and the nation was recovering. Calvin Coolidge was the President. A first-class stamp cost 2 cents. Life expectancy was less than 60. The population of the nation was 115 million.
In downstate Illinois, the City of Bloomington and Town of Normal were stable and thriving. Health care was gaining importance with three hospitals: St. Joseph, Brokaw, and the newest one, Mennonite.

People were mainly hospitalized for surgical procedures. However, this was 10 years before the concept of health insurance had started and the ability to pay for unexpected care was limited for many patients. So the hospitals looked to the community for support.

Fast forward to 2016. In the process of moving the archives at what is now Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, the Mennonite Hospital business ledgers from 1924-1954 were found. And the stories they tell about the people in that era are lessons for us all. The community of Mennonites was there then, and continues, to address the needs of the “sick and suffering”.

Among all the ledger accounts of expenses such as heating bills and wages, there are pages and pages listing the donations that came in during 1925. Many were from individuals, and some were credited from the churches or the ladies aid societies of the churches.

Food appeared over and over on the list. It was what the people raised and could share. For example:
1 peck of cucumbers
5 dozen eggs
14 quarts of canned fruit
A gallon of lard
Pints of jelly
Bushels of apples, sweet corn
Cottage Cheese
2 live chickens
½ beef

They were also able to make fabric goods to use in the hospital. There were many entries, such as:
15 sheets
6 pillow cases
18 dresser scarves
7 bed-pan covers
And to keep everything clean, homemade soap

Occasionally cash was given to apply to an account for a patient.

Many donor names are still familiar in this community, such as Roth, Troyer, Ropp, Kaufman, Sommer, and Schertz. The churches are legend: East White Oak, Salem, Meadows, Anchor, Danvers and many more.

What a rich history of giving is told in this old ledger. How fortunate we are today that our predecessors cared enough to share their wealth in the best way they could. It is a lesson for us all.

By Sonja Reece, May 2016

Jul 09 2016

Why It is Essential To Organize Your Records NOW

Have you ever lost a paper, something that was really important, and you are sure you put it in some place secure but you can’t find it? You look and look, to no avail. Eventually, you find it and you vow to get better organized so this doesn’t happen again.

Now imagine you are looking for a paper that belonged to someone else, and you don’t even know for sure it exists but you hope so. It would be really helpful to find their records as so much is depending on it. That happens every day as family members have to step in when someone is unable to manage their affairs or they have passed without telling others about their personal, home, or financial business.

I’m a widow who has always managed the financial affairs for my husband and me. A few years ago, I began to think about the point when I, myself, could no longer manage my affairs. That might be years away, or it could be next week. That prompted me to assemble key pieces of information that my family will need to know.

The process began small and, as often happens with projects like this, I kept thinking of other things my family should know. It has culminated in a 2 inch, three-ring binder, with pocket dividers for 32 topics in what I call the Grab and Go book, a reference guide for my family.

The most important step has been reviewing the book with my family NOW, while there is no crisis. We go over it at least annually to make sure my family knows what I’m doing and why. While I talk about “family”, the person you ask to be prepared to step in may not be your family at all, but a trusted friend.

I’m now urging others to get organized. I hold seminars teaching people what to consider assembling and why. If you are looking for a presentation on this topic, contact me at:
Sonja Reece    309-825-2355

Jul 09 2016

New Paths

Sometimes you come to a juncture in life that prompts you to make changes. The situation could be one you carefully planned such as a retirement or a move. Perhaps it is one that was a surprise, as was my case with the sudden death of my spouse. Whatever the reason, seize the moment to try a new path. Here are a few of the new directions I’ve been taking.

Try sitting in a different seat in church each time you are there. You may talk with people you have not really known.

Reach out to those who are newly on their own. Just make a call to say I’m thinking of you.

Go alone to whatever intrigues you and, while there, you may make a new friend.

Track down some old friends, perhaps former classmates, and renew acquaintances. Several years ago my husband got a call from a college friend who said he had no time or budget to go on vacation so decided to “visit” old friends by phoning them. He was making a call each evening. It was a delight to get his call and catch up with his life. Today, with the internet, you can find almost anyone. And with many cell phone plans, it is not that expensive to call anywhere in the country.

When you prepare a meal, make enough for two or three people. Then share your food with neighbors who may be alone or unable to cook. That keeps you from overeating, and helps them know they are not forgotten.

What new paths have you taken?

Jan 03 2015

Three Reasons to Wear a Red Scarf

It was the day of the Jingle Bells parade and pretty cold out there. I was going to participate with the Normal Town Council. Santa hats were going to be our designated mode of dress that morning. However, I’m not inclined to wear hats as they smash my hair and that’s it for me for the day!

I made a quick survey of my scarf drawer and found a new, very long red scarf. I’m pretty sure I bought it to give as a gift sometime. Always like to have something for a last minute gift. Anyway, that day it was my alternative to the red Santa hat and I wore it around my neck to be color-coordinated with the others.

Since then I’ve loved wearing it.

  1. I can actually find my coat when I go to some event and hang it with the hundreds of other black coats.
  2. It is bright and I think it will help drivers see me walking across the street.
  3. It’s festive and people often comment on it with a smile.

Go get something bright and see what fun you can create.

Jan 03 2015

The Kitchen Table

The kitchen table is my place. It is close to what I need when I get up in the morning and when I come home at the end of the day. From my spot I can reach the land-line phone, have room for the newspaper, and a bowl/plate of food. I can reach the sink and the microwave with little effort. The TV and radio are both at my beckon call via the remotes for each.

It is where the mail is sorted, and the interesting stuff is actually opened. Some goes quickly to the recycle basket, also by my spot at the kitchen table. It is where the bills are paid (although most are done by the bank these days) and where thank you notes or sympathy cards are written. That is about all the paper correspondence I really do today.

The family room no longer gets used. The few times I have tried to be there I found it didn’t meet my needs. If I sit in the recliner, I immediately fall asleep. It is too passive, and not suited for multi-tasking.

I recently had dinner guests, two couples who are long-time friends. I had expected to serve hors d’oeuvres in the living room. But they all came to the kitchen where the tray of food was ready to go. I asked if they wanted to just sit at the kitchen table and they did. It was easier to reach the cheese and there was a place to put our glasses. It was easier for me to finish the meal without missing the conversation. The guests all helped move the serving dishes to the dining room where the table was all set. After a long, relaxed meal, they cleared the dining table and brought everything back to the kitchen.

I like it when guests seem to enjoy sitting around the kitchen table…my place.

Where is your place?

Jan 03 2015

Having breast cancer THREE times is enough!

By Sonja Reece

It was 1985 and I was working at what was then BroMenn Healthcare when I found that thing that all women fear: a lump in my breast. Working in health care, I knew the importance of quick action. I called my internist to get a mammogram order, and radiology agreed to work me in. I stood by the radiologist while he read the image. “What advice would you have if I were your sister?” I asked. He replied, “I’d say get it checked now!”

The biopsy came back positive for cancer. It was Christmas week. I worked with my surgeon to get a mastectomy scheduled for Monday. On Friday afternoon before the procedure I decided to talk with a surgical floor nurse about what to expect. She mentioned immediate reconstruction, which I hadn’t considered. I called the plastic surgeon to learn more. He had me come right over to his office to evaluate if I was a good candidate for the procedure.

After determining I was realistic in my expectations, he invited me and my husband to meet him at his office on Sunday afternoon (yes, Sunday) to discuss the reconstruction. He knows these procedures go better if the spouse understands what to expect.

I had the surgery and reconstruction the next day. While there, the surgeon biopsied the other side. The following day he brought “good news and bad news.” Good news: No cancer in 31 lymph nodes. Bad news: breast cancer was starting in other breast.

I told him I “wasn’t doing anything the rest of the week” so let’s go do the second mastectomy. He agreed. I jokingly told the plastic surgeon, “With my luck, you won’t have another prosthesis that is the same size!” They are sized by the cc of fluid they contain. He assured me that no one would notice the difference if one side was 25 cc smaller than the other. He was right.

The second mastectomy with reconstruction was done, and I spent New Year’s in the hospital. Our son came in to watch a movie with us and brought popcorn. Two days later the surgeon un-wrapped my ace-bandaged chest and discovered a piece of popcorn had fallen in my “new” cleavage. We laughed as he declared that was a first!

Since both breasts were gone and my lymph nodes were all clean, the oncologists didn’t see the need for any post-op treatment. Even with all those lymph nodes removed, I didn’t get edema in my arms – a common side effect. That was the end of the story…for twenty-three years.

The story resumes in 2008. I was facing new issues: Cholesterol too high. Hair getting thin. Brown spots in various places. One of those spots saved my life. I pulled back my prosthetic breast to examine a brown spot and felt a nodule: small, the size of a grain of corn. Could my prosthesis be leaking?? A call to my internist sent me back to radiology, this time for an MRI. The results indicated I had another breast cancer tumor growing between my skin and prosthesis.

How could that be? I didn’t have any breasts. I was told it is impossible to remove all the breast tissue, and breast cancer can grow anytime it finds a few cells. Yikes!

A quick lumpectomy was done but the edges were not clean of cancer tissue, so back to surgery I went to remove the prosthesis.

What was new this time: A PET scan, which looks for rapidly growing cells “from your eyes to your thighs.” My results were clean.

What’s also new: Today they can test the tumor for the number of abnormal genes as an indicator of the likelihood the cancer will come back. Not surprising…I had a high likelihood, so I needed to be aggressive with treatment.

Also new this time: my oncologist referred me to a research center to get another opinion. Both agreed on the type of chemo and radiation that would be most effective. I was able to get both right here at the Community Cancer Center. Amazingly, I didn’t lose my hair during the chemo. Then I had 33 radiation treatments. The radiation team and I got so efficient, I could pull in the parking lot, get my radiation, and be back in my car in 19 minutes!

It’s been about 30 years since this saga began. I’m still working at what is now Advocate BroMenn Medical Center. I finished five years of medications. Without good insurance, the meds alone would have cost $411/month.

I feel so blessed to be fine today. Even so, I will keep watching. My message is, if you find something, don’t ignore it. When you treat it, don’t assume it won’t come back. This story is true for men, too. Breast cancer is a relentless disease. You must be relentless, too.


Feb 05 2014

Toe Tales

This saga began with the Advocate Health Care “health enews”, September 18, 2013 edition. That is a digital newsletter that gives Advocate associates and friends tips on staying healthy. That edition had an article on how your nails can be an indicator of your health. I’ve always paid attention my nails so read the short article.  That’s when the message turned serious.

The article said, among other things, a persistent dark streak in a nail could be an indicator of melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. Yikes! I had a toenail with two dark streaks in it. They had been there for about three years, and I had assumed I had hurt my toe causing the dark streaks (although I didn’t remember any toe injury). Now I was learning it might be melanoma. Having had breast cancer three times, I was not about to ignore the possibility I had another form of cancer.

A dermatologist and a plastic surgeon both said they could not rule out melanoma without a biopsy. I was scheduled for a biopsy at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center (where I work). The plastic surgeon removed my great toe nail. Way back beyond the visible nail in the nail matrix he found two tiny brown places that he biopsied out. He then grafted normal nail bed tissue into the two “holes” in the matrix so it wouldn’t grow a split nail. Finally, he cleaned up my old toenail and stitched it back in place. I’m told the old nail plate is the best protector during healing.

The pathologist delivered good news that the brown spots were not melanoma. Whew! That was a relief. The plastic surgeon thinks that the brown spots were seborrheic keratosis as I have on the trunk of my body. I despise those brown spots, and now I really despise them in my toenail.

The plastic surgeon removed the stitches a couple of weeks later. Amazingly, the old toenail stayed in place for three and a half months. In the meantime, I was very careful about my foot, wearing sensible shoes. Last week the old toenail just came off and there was the beginning of a new toenail. No pain, no tenderness, no problem. So for the first time in about four months, I was able to wear high heels again for a special event. Not four-inchers that some women wear, but pretty, dressy, girly shoes.

The point of telling this story is to pay attention to signs about your health. I was lucky, but it could have been melanoma. Thanks, Advocate, for teaching us to stay alert.

No melanoma. Back in high heels. Life is good.

Jan 05 2014

Reflections on a Snowy Day

The new year is starting out strong in the mid-west with Mother Nature letting us know who is in charge. This is the first of a few days of record low temperatures.  There was little excuse for not being informed.  Every newscast leading up to the weekend has told us what to do:  Buy groceries to get ready to stay in (and eat), fill up the car’s tank with gas (but don’t plan on going anywhere), the list goes on and on.

I was able to have a small dinner party last night for a couple of close friends, even in the face of the snow starting.  We used the occasion to have great conversation over bowls of vegetable beef soup and some good cheese.  I think spending time with friends over soup warms the soul as well as the tummy.

As I put away the special dishes from the dinner today, I noticed several things in the “party closet” that I don’t use or need. That led to a quick cleaning of three shelves.  More items going to the basket to take to the BroMenn Thrift Shop.  I keep a basket in the garage and when it is full, it goes in the car to drop off.  In exchange I get a form to list the items that I gave, the likely value, and my tax preparer likes that.

There is still too much chocolate in the house.  I’m pacing myself.  I’ve given some to neighbors and allow myself 1-2 pieces a day.  Hiding it doesn’t work as I will forget it and then it gets too old to be really good. That is a real waste. I can waste some things but not chocolate.


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