Happy Sunday! I’m currently in air somewhere above Chicago, I’m guessing on my way to Philly for work. (Yes wish me luck as I enter the city of “brotherly love”). You will be happy to know I’m representing MN with my Diggs Jersey... hopefully I don’t get shot! 😜 JK.
I wanted to reflect on the last month of INDY happenings and I’ve been meaning to do it for a while but didn’t always have the words until yesterday... I’m completely humbled, grateful and blessed for all that has occurred during this last month. I apologize now for the long post but to say my heart is full would be an understatement and here’s why....
In January we kicked off INDY Foundation warrior selections. For those of you that are new to us, our mission is to spread love and faith by providing financial support to cancer warriors and their families verse the battle at hand. So what does that really mean? Anybody can be nominated to be a “warrior” - only requirement is that they must currently be battling the “c” word. Any age. Any type of cancer it doesn’t matter, we support all. The INDY selection committee reviews the nominations each quarter and picks an INDY warrior for each month. At our first meeting we decided that it would be fun to select two warriors as a kick off to our mission. Joe Scheffler and Melissa DeYaeger were our first selections. As a Foundation we give a monetary gift (which comes from donations and a portion of profits from our clothing sales), INDY shirts and on going support as we welcome the warriors into our INDY tribe. We also are trying to video each warrior, if they are up for it, if not we let them write their story as a way for them to share their journey with the world.
Our first warrior Joe, unfortunately we weren’t able to video our meeting but myself and another board member Cari had the opportunity to share an afternoon with him and his wife Shannon. What an awesome opportunity to meet and share our journeys. Joe and Shannon happen to be around the same age as me, which is something I wish I would of had when going through our journey. Not that I want young people to endure cancer but being able to relate with people your age is so helpful. Joe is battling brain cancer. Him and his wife Shannon have two kids - Shannon continues to work full time and also juggles bringing Joe to all of his appointments. Being a caregiver is a full time job in itself. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting and I can relate when I say Shannon deserves all the credit in the world. It’s not easy and I couldn’t imagine throwing kids in the mix. However, this young family has such a positive outlook on a crappy situation. Joe, (who I nicknamed “the jokester”) because in our two hour meeting he always had me laughing. From him telling me that he eats nearly a bag of apples a day (no joke) to him saying don’t judge me as he pulls out his own “sugar free” coffee creamer at Caribou. 😂 I loved his fun spirit and openness . As our conversation went on, he said something that really resonated with me, “I believe the things that heal us are here on this earth.” In fact I got goosebumps when he said it because Kyle has said those exact same words before. Regardless of your beliefs or feelings towards that statement my point is moments like that are a simple reminder of why I started the INDY Foundation, to carry on Kyle’s legacy and help others through this terrible disease. We all know someone with cancer, in fact I bet every single one of us could name 5 people. It sucks. Reality is, it’s the world we live in. So how can we make a difference and help those people going through such a terrible thing? Cancer research is amazing and needed but the reality is the people battling need our immediate help and support. Together we can all make a difference in the lives of those battling cancer. Thank you Joe and Shannon for inviting us into your lives - we will continue to keep you in our prayers and provide support anyway we can. You are now a member of the INDY tribe! ❤️
Our second warrior and first video was with Melissa, her husband Royce and kids. I really didn’t know what to expect going into it. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. When I walked through the front door at the DeYaeger House, I felt a huge sense of relief (probably my angel from above). This was my first time meeting Melissa but it felt like I had known her for a long time. We laughed, we cried, we shared similarities in our journey. We learned what a small world it was - like finding out Mel and Royce lived 1 block from where my parents built their new house in Breezy Point. It was such a humbling night. And then the video camera turned on and Mel was simply amazing. I can’t describe the energy, the confidence and heartfelt message she left for the world. What was a very emotional video was also a gift. As many of you reading this know, Melissa died less than two weeks after we video taped. Ultimately that night I believe she knew the reality of her battle but she wasn’t done yet in many ways. She had a few things to accomplish and she wanted to leave this world her way and on her terms, much like Kyle did.
I remember the car ride home that night, I turned to the videographer Kyle and said “do you realize the gift you just gave that family? She left that message for her friends and family.” As I drove home I just reflected and felt so grateful and fulfilled that I I as able to meet Melissa. Little did I know it would be the first and last time I met her.
I got a text the Friday morning after she had died. My heart was broke. As I drove to work I wondered why. I felt like I was reliving my own “nightmare” all over again. I went into work in tears but was soon greeted at the front doors by someone who knew I needed a hug that morning. At times I wonder if I am doing the right thing... I mean do I really think I can start and maintain a non-profit? Can I handle reliving and reminiscing my own cancer journey time and time again? The answer is yes. I’m a determined 28 year old widow who wants to give back what was given to me on behalf of my best friend and husband, Kyle. It’s his legacy, his spirit and his words - I’m Not Done Yet.
In the first month of launching INDY, we had to not only figure out the best way to show case each journey but also honor the lives of one our fallen warriors. I wasn’t prepared for that... I’ve attended a few wakes and funerals since Kyle’s but really none in relation to cancer. How do you prepare yourself for this? You don’t. You just take it “one day at a time.” (Right Royce?) Side note: Melissa left Royce a little sign... she had emptied out her chemo bag prior to them going to Florida. After she had passed Royce was going through her bag and at the bottom was a coin that Melissa carried with her that had the saying - “one day at a time” on it. And really it’s something I think we all need to tell ourselves daily because we do live in a fast paced world and it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to be a part of Melissa’s benefit. Mel absolutely loved INDY and what it stood for, so she had asked that we come and sell our merchandise at her benefit. If you’ve never been a part of a benefit for someone - they are so amazing. Seeing a community of people come together for a few hours, socializing and spending money that they know is supporting a family is simply amazing. It brought back memories from Kyle’s benefit that put a smile on my face. It’s just so heart warming.
On behalf of the INDY Foundation I can’t thank everyone enough for the overwhelming love and support we received. It is absolutely heart warming and humbling. I can’t thank you all enough. When I start to question if I’m doing the right thing, it’s all of you that remind me together we can make a difference in the lives of those battling cancer. Yesterday I was able to meet many of you who have seen and heard what we are doing. Thank you for the support. It means the world. And to all the nurses that worked along side of Mel and also had the pleasure of taking care of Kyle - it takes a special person to do what you do. ❤️ Please keep the DeYaeger and Koepp families in your prayers. What a week of emotions they have endured as they buried their loved one early in the week and honored her at the latter part of the week.
Going into this I didn’t really know what to expect but I knew I had a passion and a dream to chase, not to mention the promise to Kyle. He knew about INDY and was excited to watch it grow in fact in his final days he told me, “And get your butt working on INDY or I will haunt you.” (He had a bit of a sense of humor). So when people ask me if this is hard to relive as I meet the new warriors, the answer is yes and no. Yes it will always bring back raw moments but reality is it allows me to channel my energy into helping others through it. I made two promises to Kyle, one that he will never be forgotten and two that I will work on INDY every single day. I’m on a mission to make him proud!
Yesterday I could feel the presence of Kyle and even though he’s not around he always manages to find a funny way to remind me that he is truly around. As we were packing up, I realized the song playing across the juke box, (which hadn’t been on all night) “Dixieland Delight” by Alabama - a favorite amongst him and his friends. Truly a sign from above that brought me to tears.
Again I can’t thank you all enough for the love and support you have shown towards INDY. It’s only the beginning of something greater. Thank you to the DeYaeger and Scheffler families for welcoming us in with open arms. You are and always will be a part of the INDY tribe. I know Melissa and Kyle are up there smiling as we carry their legacies on. ❤️
If you know someone battling cancer - nominate them on our website here https://www.im-not-done-yet.com/nominate-a-warrior.html
You can also donate or purchase gear on our website. We do have our first fundraiser coming up on March 21st - private screening of “I Can Only Imagine” we would love to have you join us. Ticket info is on our Facebook (I’m Not Done Yet) or the home page of the website.
Together we can make a difference in the lives of those battling cancer.
Xoxo - Kayla Strand