Community is Everything – Lisa’s Story

Lisa hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in 2019 before her diagnosis.
Lisa Klingenmaier is a social worker by training — an identity which transcends her perspectives on life and guides her interactions with others. She believes strongly in the need to create spaces in which people can thrive, and she’d be the first to declare that “community is everything!”
However, similar to the proverbial cobbler who has no shoes, Lisa hadn’t invested in the creation of a community for herself as it related to her life with cancer, since she learned of the presence of a rare neuroendocrine tumor in her body just after her 37th birthday. 
Lisa, a policy advocate who recently celebrated the passage of a paid family and medical leave reform bill for which she had lobbied for several years, tends to absorb the stress and anxiety of others. While significant portions of her body were being subtracted — surgery took out her tumor, 10 inches of her small and large intestines, her appendix, and 18 lymph nodes into which the cancer had metastasized — Lisa added many new emotions of her own, as well as those of her family, friends, and coworkers. Because her treatment ended with surgery — no chemo or radiation was required — Lisa felt that she didn’t belong in the same category as patients who endured long and painful therapies. She worried other survivors would think she “got off easy,” so while she processed her experience with her therapist, she didn’t seek out relationships with peers impacted by cancer.
That therapist, seeing a need that Lisa — always considering the needs of others before her own — couldn’t, recommended she check out the Ulman Foundation. Several months into the “scanxiety” phase of living with cancer, and having to wait six months longer than recommended by her doctors for each scan because of insurance policies, Lisa opened her mind to cancer-specific support. 
She was easily lured into the Ulman community once she learned about Key to Keys, an eight-day bicycle journey from Baltimore to Key West, being an avid outdoorswoman and fitness enthusiast. Because her surgeries had forced Lisa to cut back on her regular weekend backpacking trips, she wasn’t challenging herself physically as frequently as she did pre-cancer, and worried that the disease may have stolen her grit and resilience along with some of her organs. 
Key to Keys and the community Lisa gained through it proved her all wrong. 

Lisa and the 2022 Key to Keys team in Key West!
Physically, Lisa was delighted to find that her body responded better than she had hoped when she challenged it. Five days into the trip, with a couple hundred total miles already on her wheels, Lisa aimed to complete a sixty-mile ride on “long mileage day.” She instead crushed 105 miles, at an average speed of more than 14 miles per hour, alongside her mini peloton of teammates Chris, Alison, Sheryl and Jeff, and support drivers Sally and Averil. Accomplishing the century ride and celebrating at Daytona Beach showed Lisa that her inner athlete was still alive and well, and the entire experience relit a spark in her to participate in movement just for the joy of it. 
Emotionally, Lisa found that she was indeed worthy of support and that she truly belongs in the cancer community. Long conversations in the van and over evening hang-outs showed her that she shared the same earth-shattering feelings as others when she got the call with her diagnosis. Her new friends and she bonded over the common experiences of scanxiety and receiving unhelpful, if well-intended, advice from those who haven’t lived with cancer. Lisa learned that no two cancer journeys are alike, and that she can benefit from getting support as much as she thrives on giving it. 
It’s now just short of two years since the colonoscopy that changed Lisa’s life, and she’s got a scan this week. She’ll go into it with a full team of understanding survivors and caregivers behind her, since the social worker took her own advice about living in community, and the cobbler got herself some cycling shoes. 

Lisa celebrating the completion of her 2022 Key to Keys ride at the Southernmost Point!


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