“ Keep fighting and remember there is a whole community here to help!
Rebecca Nellis is one hardworking mAss Kicker. She is the Vice President of Programs and Strategy for the organization, Cancer and Careers. Rebecca oversees the organization’s program portfolio and long-term strategy for growth in its services. She speaks regularly at national cancer conferences, community events and to press as an expert on the issues of balancing a diagnosis and employment. Rebecca’s nonprofit experience spans 15 years and includes working with organizations such as the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, The Jewish Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Collective Hole Productions and the International Center of New York. We met Rebecca at a conference years ago and were impressesed with her dedication to helping survivor become “post treatment thrivers” by re-entering the workforce. We were very honored that she took the time out of her schedule to answer some questions for us!
mK: Thanks for doing this Rebecca. What is your relationship to tumors/cancer?
RN: I have spent more than a decade developing to develop the Cancer and Careers program of support and services to anyone trying to navigate work and cancer. And, like most people, unfortunately cancer has also touched my own life through friends and family.
mK: Why are you so involved in cancer advocacy? What do you do for Cancer and Careers?
RN: There is so much unfairness in the world, and I don’t think someone who has been diagnosed with cancer should face one more second of unfairness in their lives because of it. I am the VP of programs and strategy. I oversee the organization’s program portfolio and long-term strategy for growth in its services. But the way the community really knows me is because I spend a crazy amount of time on airplanes, crisscrossing the country talking to patients, survivors and healthcare pros about how to balance work and cancer.
mK: Cool. What motivates you?
RN: People. Travel. Creativity. Wanting to be a cog in the wheel making the world a better place. And, I have always cared a lot about fairness. We are all different from each other and those differences are the best parts. I am also motivated by the incredible people I get to work with at CAC and in the cancer community.
In my work at CAC specifically, aside from being motivated by wanting things to be fair, I am also motivated by trying to make sure if I know something that would be helpful to someone during their cancer experience I am available to offer it to them.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
RN: I have done lots of interesting things! Getting my master’s. Traveling to more than 30 countries (I have a map in my office where they are all pinned). Developing and directing new plays. Helping to grow CAC from the 3 year old organization it was when I got here to the 13 year old one it is today.
mK: Based on what you’ve observed, what is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
RN: If I have to make a generalization, I’d say the biggest challenge is people not having access to things that would make a diagnosis of cancer easier to bear from the newest treatments to a supportive workplace to job opportunities down the road to fertility treatment to legal experts to paid time off and on and on. But really, I don’t think I can answer that; each person’s challenges are as unique as the person themselves.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
RN: The Voice, having not succumbed to any reality TV since the original Real World shot in NY (man, I am dating myself) I was totally surprised when I became completely hooked. It all started when I was writing my master’s thesis…
mK: Reality TV really is an addiction. What 5 songs would you put on the movie soundtrack of your life? Why?
RN: I am a rule breaker, here are 11!
You Can’t Always Get What You Want, The Rolling Stones
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), The Beatles
Sheena is a Punk Rocker, The Ramones
In Your Eyes, Peter Gabriel
Pride (In the Name of Love), U2
Alive, Pearl Jam
I Predict a Riot, The Kaiser Chiefs
Rock Your Body, Justin Timberlake
These Days, Powderfinger
Ghost, Neutral Milk Hotel
Soul Meets Body, Death Cab for Cutie
As for why, I will let the music speak for itself.
mK: Hee hee… What do you like to do in your spare time?
RN: Eat. Hang with my people. Travel. See theatre/dance. Support Chicago sports teams (except the White Sox, can’t do it I am a Cubs fan).
mK: What are you up to now?
RN: It is an exciting time at Cancer and Careers. We are working on a rebrand and we are working with a PR firm to elevate the issues people face when they juggle cancer and work into the greater public’s consciousness. We also just hired two awesome new staff people so we are getting them up to speed. This summer we will start plotting 2015’s projects and programs. And, of course lots of upcoming travel, everywhere from Atlanta to DC and Alaska to Alabama. It’s always busy around here!
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
RN: If you don’t understand the answers you are getting, keep asking the questions until you do. Take someone with you to be another set of ears. Don’t be afraid to get second opinions. Make use of the cancer community and its deep well of passionate people and resources.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
RN: Shel Silverstein wrote a poem for me when I was 5.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
RN: Keep fighting and remember there is a whole community here to help!
Rebecca Nellis: Literary Muse, Chicago Sports Fanatic, world traveler, Rock Chick, Timberlake Groupie, reality TV addict, survivor employment advocate, and ALL AROUND Cool Girl! Thanks for answering our questions Rebecca! We are excited to see what happens next with Cancer and Careers. Check out Cancer and Careers. They will help “survivors” become “thrivers.”