The nominees for InSpiring Women of 2014 are women that show their strength by conquering difficulties in their own lives. In turn, they inspire others by reaching out to those in need with the donation of their time and energy.
Selections of the individuals were made in the categories of Health, Heart and Happiness. We believe each woman’s contribution impacts the world around them as they inspire others to go out and make a difference. Please read about them on the following pages. We hope you will be just as inspired by the stories of these three women who give of themselves unselfishly.
Lisa Buhlog- Cancer can’t stop the positive spirit of this gal!
By Dorothy Bliskey
Lisa Buhalog’s middle name should be “Inspiration” — she’s that and so much more to those around her. Even her Madison breast cancer surgeon was shocked when, just three weeks after performing a double mastectomy on Lisa, she “accidentally” ended up walking alongside her in a Madison cancer walk bustling with 10,000 participants. Like a needle in a haystack, the two found each other. The event was the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on May 31 this year. Just three weeks prior, on May 8, Lisa had undergone removal of both her breasts (bilateral mastectomy) and a seven-hour breast reconstruction surgery.
“I’m not one to just sit around and have a pity-party,” said Lisa, who at 49 was diagnosed with a type of breast cancer known as invasive mammary carcinoma. “I debated whether or not to participate in the race, since it was so close to my surgery date. But my friends had formed a team and I wanted to show how grateful I was. So my husband and I walked the entire 3.5 miles too.”
Names of the survivors were called out at the conclusion of the race, and everyone one of them – including Lisa – had to walk through the loudly cheering crowd. “It was quite a tearful moment,” Lisa said, noting she was in a weakened state due to the surgery and need for physical therapy for her upper body. “At a time like that, you just don’t realize how much inner strength you have. I was just happy to be alive and to be there.”
“I was very surprised to see Lisa at that Race for the Cure,” said Dr. Heather Neuman, the UW Health Clinic breast cancer surgeon who had performed surgery on Lisa just days before. “I had been on the lookout for any of my patients at the Race, but never would have thought of Lisa, given how close she was to surgery. She looked great. You would never have guessed all of the surgeries she had been through in the past few months.
Neuman said she was close to Lisa when reaching the finish line and heard her name called as a survivor. “I saw her being greeted by all of her family and friends as she crossed the line. It was very special.”
Dr. Neuman is also aware that Lisa was named a winner in the “Most Inspiring Woman” contest here at Inspire Magazine this fall. “I think Lisa absolutely meets the criteria as a ‘Most Inspiring Woman’ — she is a great role model for anyone facing a new diagnosis of breast cancer,” Neuman said. “Lisa’s course through her surgical treatment was not straightforward. It is never easy getting a diagnosis of breast cancer and never easy to make a decision about what type of surgery to pursue. She had an initial preference for lumpectomy, but ultimately underwent mastectomy due to persistently positive margins. Many patients would become frustrated with constantly being presented with bad news. She, however, just took everything in stride.”
“It wasn’t easy for her,” Neuman continues, “but with the support of her family, she handled every challenge that was presented to her. Through it all I never saw her anything other than optimistic and grateful for the care given to her. I think this is actually what makes her such a good role model and so inspirational — the ability to stay positive in the face of challenging news.”
Lisa’s journey with cancer began with a routine mammogram in February of this year. On March 6, after undergoing another mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, cancer in her right breast was verified.
“I was at work and got the call that I should come in to the Breast Health Center for a consultation,” Lisa said, recalling the sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“I was terrified when I first found out I had cancer,” Lisa said. “I was afraid to tell our sons who at 20 and 22 were away at school and working away from home. I didn’t want to worry them.”
Lisa ended up delivering the news to her sons on the phone. “There was a long silence,” she recalls. “I tried to be strong, and I said I’m going to make it through this.”
“They and my husband Art have been so very supportive. They helped me stay positive through humor.”
Lisa clung tightly to that love and support and her immense positive spirit as she began the attack on her cancer with a lumpectomy – the first path of treatment she chose. Ultimately, it didn’t go too well as attempts were unsuccessful in getting all of the cancer. Twice, when she thought the cancer was gone, she was told the margins weren’t clear and cancer cells were still present.
That’s when Dr. Heather Neuman entered the picture.
“When she spoke to me about my options she thought I should have an MRI to be sure there was not cancer in my left breast. It was negative, but she said I had a 15 percent chance of getting cancer in my left breast. She questioned if I wanted to go through it again years down the line.”
After talking to many cancer survivors, Lisa opted for the double mastectomy. A monumental example of her positive attitude and the moral support that surrounded her took place just two days before her mastectomy surgery. “My mom, sisters, and my girlfriends all met for a cocktail party to say farewell to that part of my body. It was very therapeutic.”
When she awoke from surgery, the shock wasn’t nearly as traumatic as one would think. She had two “new” breasts, supported by her own skin. “Implants had been put in immediately. The next day I went home with four drainage tubes. My husband was my caregiver, and he really stepped up.”
Friends, relatives and even strangers came to Lisa’s side during her cancer journey. “Strangers came out of the woodwork,” Lisa said. A mutual friend introduced me to someone at a restaurant who’d gone through a similar ordeal. We talked for hours. At the Madison Walk in May she met Lori Smith from Beaver Dam – she was a mutual friend with one of Lisa’s friends and had also been struck with breast cancer. “It’s been so helpful to talk with Lori and others who’ve gone through this.”
Lessons Lisa has learned through her experience with cancer are bold and real. “I have learned that life is too short and you must celebrate each and every day. You have to dig deep and fight. Not every day is going to be great, but there is something great in every day.”
Co-worker inspired by Lisa Buhalog
By Dorothy Bliskey
As an activity assistant at a local nursing home, Lisa Buhalog works fulltime to bring happiness to others. It was a co-worker and friend, Valerie Petrick who nominated her for the Most Inspiring Woman contest. Her message illustrates the positive impact Lisa unknowingly has on others in her everyday life.
“Lisa is upbeat, loving and strong to be around,” Valerie wrote. “The only words she said to us were: It is so. Those three dreaded words.”
“Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer and this has changed her life but not her perseverance. She always has this fantastic smile on her face that will make everyone’s day. She is the type of person that will give more than receive. She will make you happy and laugh.”
One striking example of Lisa’s good nature and her ability to have a positive influence on others, according to Valerie, is that she will “pay it forward.”
“She will pay for her own meal and for the person behind her. Then that person will pay for the meal of the person behind them, and so on.”
Even before her cancer, Lisa was participating in many run/walks for the community, Valerie said, including the Beaver Dam Community Hospital Nurses Run/Walk, Relay for Life, Memory Walks, and the Susan G. Komen. “She also has donated her time for Soles for Shoes. We see her smile and loveliness throughout the community of Beaver Dam.”
“She is a breast cancer survivor and credits her recovery to her family, friends, and co-workers for being there with support, faith, and understanding.
Lisa is an angel, has patience, and is happy. I feel she deserves a treasure to hold onto since she is always one to pay it forward,” Valerie concludes.
Inspiring Woman- Cathy Cigelske
By Gloria Hafemeister
“Not until you have walked a mile in my moccasins, will you know my journey.” American Indian Proverb.
There are numerous versions of this old American Indian Proverb but it captures a truism of life.
Cathy Cigelske has been a registered nurse for 15 years, working with young patients at American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison since 1994. Until she experienced cancer, twice, she did not have a true understanding for what it was like to be in their moccasins.
Cathy is one of the deserving recipients of this year’s “Inspiring Women” award. She was nominated by her daughter, Aysha, who says, “She is an extremely giving person. Whether it’s giving groceries to a family in a rough spot or putting gas in someone’s tank, if you need help, she will help.”
Aysha also commends her mother for her ability to help the young patients she works with, not only physically but emotionally.
In the letter nominating her mother, Aysha says, “She has taught me to always have a positive look on life. She is a two-time cancer survivor. During that time she didn’t let her cancer get her down. She still stayed positive and carried on with her life. She was able to use her illness to help patients she worked with at the children’s hospital. She could relate to them in a way no one else could.”
Cathy experienced thyroid cancer in 1999 and then breast cancer in 2002. While it was difficult, she says she had a whole new understanding for what her patients were going through emotionally.
She recalls, “During the time I was going through my fight with cancer I was a pediatric oncology nurse. For me, one of the most traumatic things when I went through my treatments was losing my hair. It really helped me understand what these young people were going through.”
She relates, “I really didn’t know how much I was able to help until my mother related a story about a 15 year-old girl who had been under my care.”
Cathy’s mother is a stockbroker and one of her clients was telling about her daughter who was upset about losing her hair after cancer treatments. She went on to say that her daughter had been encouraged by a nurse who had also lost her hair. That nurse was Cathy.
Aysha and her family live with Cathy and her husband at their Cambria home.
Cathy also has two other daughters and four grandchildren. Daughter Sophia and her family live at Marinette. Her daughter, Amber lives in Rio. She has had cerebral palsy since she was born 24 years ago.
Cathy’s experience working with Amber has helped her be more understanding of the issues other parents of children with cerebral palsy face. “I know it was hard to accept getting the g-tube (gastrostomy or feeding tube) so I can relate with the other parents,” she says.
She has also helped young nursing students understand the emotional issues parents face when their children are ill.
Cathy says her daughters were her inspiration over the years.
Cathy set out to get her nursing degree as a young single mother determined to find a way to support her family. The decision to become a nurse was an easy one. It’s something she stated in third grade when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up.
With advice and encouragement from family, friends and the school counselor, she first became a Licensed Practical Nurse and then went on to become a Registered Nurse.
Aysha says of her mother, “She is very loyal to those in her life and has taught me the importance of loyalty. She has taught me to have faith in life; to believe that things can happen…She isn’t just my mother but she’s my role model and my friend.”
Lori Smith wins the hearts of those who surround her – in good times and bad
By Dorothy Bliskey
Lori Smith, 45, has been dealt several life-altering blows in the past six years – the death of her child, a breast cancer diagnosis for both herself and her sister, and learning her father has an advanced stage of cancer. In spite of it all, she remains one of the happiest, most determined individuals you will meet. Her story is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Those who nominated her are testimony to that. She has won the “Most Inspiring Woman” in the “heart” section of Inspire Magazine – and rightfully so!
Six years ago Lori and her husband Scott, who serves as Chief Deputy at the Dodge County Sheriff’s office, lost their one-year-old daughter Noel to influenza, a respiratory virus known as RSV and pneumonia. It was a parent’s worst nightmare come true. But rather than point fingers, the couple took the high road and created a positive fundraising event in their daughter’s name. Noel’s Angel Walk occurs every June in Beaver Dam and has raised thousands of dollars for local non-profit children’s organizations. It also raises awareness of childhood illnesses and the importance of immunizations, with a special emphasis on flu vaccinations.
“We wanted to find a positive way to give back to the community that helped us so much during the tragic loss of our daughter,” Lori said. “When Noel passed away we promised her we would never let anyone forget about her — and that we would do good things in her name.”
The event consists of a 1-mile and 2.5-mile walk, followed by an “Angel Cakes” pancake breakfast and is part of the Beaver Dam radio station WBEV/WXRO Children’s Radiothon fundraiser held annually for nearly 20 years. (Readers can learn more about Noel’s story by going to www.familiesfightingflu.org.)
Four years after Noel’s death, Lori and Scott were blessed with the arrival of their son, Nate, who is now four years old. He has been a wonderful addition to their family and knows all about his sister Noel. “We go to visit Noel at the cemetery together,” Lori said. “It’s one of his favorite things to do. He’s very smart and intuitive and loves to share in our joy of having known Noel – even if for only a year.”
The second hurdle Lori had to cross occurred the same year Noel died when Lori’s sister Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer. While it was discovered at a very early stage, her sister was only 40 at the time. Her very first mammogram had raised suspicions and illustrates the importance of having a mammogram at the recommended times.
“No one in our family ever had breast cancer,” Lori said. “It was a shock to find out about my sister. I’ve walked, run and cried with her during several breast cancer fundraisers over the past six years while organizing the Noel Angel Walks at the same time.”
What Lori certainly didn’t expect was receiving her own breast cancer diagnosis. There hadn’t been any signs. But her first mammogram at age 43 showed something “amiss” and a second mammogram was ordered. A biopsy confirmed her worst fears in March of 2013.
Lori actually had two types of cancer in her right breast – Invasive Ductal Carcinoma was classified as being at stage 2. The other cancer was a non-invasive form of breast cancer known as Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) and was at stage 1. Fourteen lymph nodes were removed, with two testing positive for cancer.
“My first reaction was that I was going to die,” Lori recalls. “I couldn’t stop crying at the thought of not being here for my son. I remember telling Scott I knew that Noel was waiting for me, but it was too soon.”
“My husband was so supportive. He is my rock. It was very difficult to tell my family. At the time, my mom was just getting home from the hospital after having a severe infection due to her diabetes. We told Nate that mommy was sick but was going to be okay.”
Lori’s cancer diagnosis led to chemotherapy, then removal of her right breast, followed by radiation. In between, the process of breast reconstruction began. All of it was done at the UW-Health Breast Cancer Clinic in Madison except for the radiation, which took place at Agnesian HealthCare’s Central Wisconsin Cancer Program Center in Fond du Lac.
Lori’s cancer journey wasn’t without complications. She reacted to one of her chemotherapy drugs by having trouble breathing and requiring a very slow administration of the “drip” going into her body. “I was always the first one in the chemo room and the last one out. It took all day to administer the medication. Scott needed to give me a shot in the stomach at home the day after chemo to help with my white blood cell count. I always got sick on day four after chemo.” Lori said. She also lost her hair and some of her toenails and fingernails (a very painful process), and her stomach hurt most of the time.
“I had lots of aches and pains but I didn’t let it get me down,” Lori said, noting her family and friends were a wonderful support team. “On the fourth day after chemo when I always got sick, friends would help me by taking Nate and cooking a meal for us. That was wonderful. I can’t thank them enough.”
In addition, the staff at Lincoln school where Lori works was a godsend. “They were incredible. They made and delivered meals for us. Our family helped by coming to stay with us to watch Nate and to clean the house. Scott’s work at the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department also was amazing with covering for him while he took me to all of my appointments. He never missed one. He called us ‘Team Smith’ and said we are in this together.”
Breast reconstruction was hampered due to radiation treatments damaging the implants she had received months earlier. “I knew there was a chance this could potentially happen,” Lori said, noting it added more time and surgeries to the process which ended this June.
Another hurdle thrown her way was her father’s stage 4 cancer diagnosis. “He began chemo the same day I did,” Lori said. In spite of the diagnosis he was handed, he’s met the challenge in the true style of an ex-marine. “My dad is the strongest man I know. He can do anything. Even now he takes care of his garden, cuts his lawn and is adding on to their house. He’s positive, determined and is my hero.”
With a role model like her dad, it doesn’t take long to figure out the apple didn’t fall from the tree. Strength and a positive spirit pulse through Lori’s blood.
As for the younger generation, even her son Nate is showing signs of inheriting that positive outlook. Lori recounts a recent day when he proved to be wise beyond his years. She was feeling mixed emotions driving Nate home from his first day of preschool. “He must have noticed my expression – ‘Mommy Are you sad?’ he said. I told him, A little. He replied that I didn’t need to be sad because I always have a child with me. I asked him what he meant by that. He said, ‘Remember, Noel is in your heart.”
After arriving home, Lori got the call from the magazine that she’d won the heart category for Most Inspiring Woman. “It just seemed surreal,” Lori said. “Nate’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Husband’s letter is loving tribute
Lori Smith was nominated by several friends and relatives for “Most Inspiring Woman.” One example submitted is a touching letter written by her husband, Scott. It is preprinted here with his permission.
Dear Members of the InSpire Magazine Advisory Board,
Please accept this letter of nomination of my wife, Lori Myszka-Smith, for the InSpiring Woman Contest 2014. The category I select for her nomination is Heart as without a doubt her heart has inspired me since we met in 1992. And evidence of her courage, perseverance, purpose, and heart have been evident to all who know her since the passing of our daughter, Noel, in 2008 and again after her diagnosis with breast cancer in March of 2013.
On the day of Lori’s biopsy, a procedure that ultimately led to her diagnosis with breast cancer, I (in one of life’s ironies) was offered a promotion to Chief Deputy of the Sheriff’s Office. As we drove home, I eventually told her of my phone call (offering me the promotion). We didn’t yet know she had cancer, but we knew we were potentially facing another difficult path. Lori did not hesitate and encouraged me to accept the promotion, and its added responsibilities. True to her character she was looking to put me ahead of her own challenges.
After Lori’s diagnosis, mastectomy and all that followed, to include chemotherapy (which included hospital stays due to complications from low white blood cell count and all of the other horrible side effects), Lori continued to not only be a Mom to Nathan and wife to me; but also continued on with her passion of fundraising and planning of Noel’s Angel Walk. Because the path of breast cancer is a long one, Lori actually continued fundraising and planning for the 5th Noel’s Angel Walk, and then continued on still through chemotherapy, radiation, and subsequent re-construction surgeries through this year’s 6th Annual Noel’s Angel Walk.
So, while working to overcome this huge personal challenge and threat to her life, Lori’s efforts raised $23,000 for the Children’s Radiothon charities that benefit children.
She kept the Walk alive in memory of our daughter Noel, and continued on without missing a stride in her role as Mom to then 3 year old and now 4 year old Nathan, and also supported me in my new professional position of Chief Deputy (and put up with my increase in hours and increase in time devoted to this new position and its responsibilities).
I need to add that Lori’s father, Ken Myzka Sr, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer shortly after Lori’s diagnosis with breast cancer. They actually each began chemotherapy on the same day in 2013. She continues to advocate for and help her Dad during his battle. She worked through her own Oncologist to get her father a second opinion that ultimately led to a better treatment plan.
As I write this she has once again traveled north to be with her father while he begins yet another round of chemotherapy.
On first site I fell in love with Lori’s blue eyes. As time passed I learned of another, profound, characteristic she possesses; her huge heart. For these reasons I feel Lori Myszka-Smith is a worthy candidate for InSpiring Woman of 2014 – a survivor of breast cancer and all challenges life throws her way.