Cancer and Taking Actions (2010-2011)Five years have elapsed since I made the decision to take action and leave a difficult situation. November 2010 was a crossroads, not only for myself, but most unfortunately, my mother, Donna. Renal cell carcinoma reoccurred and metastasized to her brain, leaving her with only a few months to live. A day before Thanksgiving, while millions of others would sit down and break bread, my mother was in emergency brain surgery to remove a mass on her brain stem. I waited at UIC Medical Center throughout that fateful day.
At that particular moment, the family situation in my life was constant conflict and struggle. My aunt was at the very crux of that – as she and my mom shared a century old home that was falling apart, in foreclosure, and full of pets (at one time, 15). I was ghost employing for my mother, as a newspaper carrier delivering 350 papers nightly – providing needed income to sustain extreme financial neglect on both their parts. I too had been unable, and later, rather accepting of not being able to find a good job due to a felony conviction in 2001, and a short prison sentence thereafter. But I had spent several years doing self-improvement and writing a book, and my feelings had adapted from self-pity to seeking ways to move on. Meanwhile, my aunt had always been difficult – due to severe and unresolved childhood issues – and so, my mother was the glue and the buffer in this family dynamic that was now evaporating right before my eyes.
I had given up on discussing options with my aunt. My mother’s care was paramount – and the home she had wasn’t going to provide any hope of recovery. So, after my aunt made several suicidal statements and struck my mom (at least that was what my mom expressed to me in her altered state), I had no choice but to leave my aunt and care for my mother.
It was late November – I had $500 to my name, and a car that didn’t work – an 88’ Grand Marquis with a heater core failure. I took Power of Attorney over my mother’s affairs which gave me authority to take a vehicle from my aunt (a 99’ Camry with payments on it) to continue the delivery route. I left for a Days Inn for a week; subsequently moving over to a Value Inn for $225/week. My mother was out of post-op, and began her arduous trek from Veterans’ Home, to multiple hospitals, to our Value Inn room, and finally, a hospice over the course of the next 7 months of her remaining life.
This was the most difficult experience of my life – trying to care for my mom, and support us on a paperboy’s delivery fees. I applied for her Social Security and received enough to pay for my mother’s funeral services, and little more. I worried about money constantly, though improved the resources six fold before my mother’s passing. I dealt with the largest institutions in America: the IRS (my mother messed up her taxes in 2008 – early onset dementia likely the reason); JPMorganChase; Social Security; the Veteran’s Administration; Sallie Mae (an old parent loan – and the nastiest of this lot.)
My mother went through radiation treatment at University Illinois at Chicago; got 2nd and 3rd opinions from Loyola and Northwestern. We drove up to Chicago over 30 times during the course of the next few months from Northwest Indiana. My mother had overnight stays at St. Elizabeth’s in Lafayette (after a perceived attempt at suicide while at the Veteran’s Home –the staff push me to take her out the home in December, when I was scrambling around to secure a host of other things) and St. Anthony’s in Crown Point.
In short, this was both freeing in terms of decision making, and trying in terms of barriers to resources and time. I did this without personal help – only the medical staffs or others met on that route provided me with a solace that I could make it. My mother though was a trooper. For all the changes, and odd places, and unimaginable loneliness when in hospitals, she kept on fighting. Her dementia and mental state was severely compromised – she was no longer the mom I’d known for nearly forty years – but there was a fighter there, and I was thankful for all the time I spent alongside her. She became a new friend that I knew…wasn’t long for this world.
Post Mom & Purdue (2011-2012)
After my mom’s passing, I had choices to make. I decided on going back to school in West Lafayette, Indiana. I needed a break from reality – and school isn’t reality. I had graduated with an industrial engineering degree in 1996, but it had been a decade since I held a job as an IE. My life no longer was that title or that daily grind. I signed up for another undergraduate – and obtained financial aid.
I moved into a very prison-like dorm room (see video) in early October 2011. I soon watched my mother’s last asset, that Camry, be repossessed. (The note remaining on the car - $3000 – was more than it was worth; and I could register the car without transfer of title, meaning, I had to pay it off.) So, started my Purdue University adventure.
I achieved a 3.87 taking Economics prerequisites that spring. That was the highest semester GPA at Purdue by a full letter grade. Even with grade inflation, I was proud. Yet, I wasn’t really going far on that route as I soon discovered…
After a summer of painting dorm rooms, busting plaster, and other upkeep jobs at Purdue Village, I started the fall of 2012 with the full bore of 18 credits of classes in Economics and an undergraduate Constitutional Law class thrown in. About one month in, I received an out-of-the-blue call tied to a recent resume update from Butler America. They had a contract IE job for TRW at $45/hour but with an underdetermined length: 3 weeks or 3 months, no telling. I jumped at the opportunity – as finances were still front and center. Yet, as I was still enrolled at Purdue, this would become another fork in the road.
Valparaiso & ZF TRW (2013-2015)
My other job during the summer was studying for the GMAT. I knew two undergraduate degrees aren’t worth much as a MBA would be. My intent, if I could afford it, was to get in to Krannert’s MBA program as it has always been a leader in operations management, my industrial engineering focus. Yet, financial realities and timing made the choice to garner admission to Valparaiso an easier and quicker route.
I took the GMAT, scored only a 620, meaning I was about 30-50 points below an upper tier admission. However, Valparaiso University admits fairly pedestrian GMAT scores. But my GPA – 2.07 before my readmission to Purdue – was always going to be a question mark. So, I put together my application – and they admitted me for 2013.
My contract with TRW ran out about a month after I started an MBA. To my credit, I had saved a bunch of money – enough to survive on, and supplement with student loans from Valparaiso’s attendance. I worked hard on doing well in all my MBA classes. Yet, it wasn’t that demanding – as it turned out. Certainly, anyone can achieve work hard enough to do the work I did there. Meanwhile, I finished my book, and published it in August 2014 to little fanfare. But I know I did it – and dedicated it to my mother.
In mid-2014, I got a follow up call from TRW about an industrial engineering position available. So, I took the interview and accepted the position. Since that time, I have worked on facility improvements, layouts, labor routings, bills, and lean events as they come about. It’s challenging, at times; rewarding, at least from my financial perspective.I have moved to a better apartment, a real one, bought a car, set up a routine in the West Lafayette area. I still need to accomplish more – more focus and time spent on specific items, but in taking risks and jumping at opportunity, I think there is hope always.