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By Monica Brancheau
In my living room and office hangs a verse from one of my favorite songs, “Oceans” by Hillsong United:
“Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”
Every time I read or hear that verse, I’m swaddled in comfort and strength.
“Trust without borders” is a very challenging idea for people like myself who like to have control. When control is lost, I can remember every detail of the moment of where I was, who I was with, etc…
On September 18, 2012 I was standing alone in the small copier room of the school that I taught in. I stood with my hands touching a table, staring at a copier machine and laminating machine when I heard the words over the phone. “You have cancer.” I know the woman on the other line said more, but I can’t recall what that was. That was the moment my life changed forever.
My cancer diagnosis thrust me into a fork-in-the-road moment. My frustration and despondent feelings about education were suddenly illuminated. I had been laid off numerous times, could no longer teach creatively, and I even had to give numerous standardized tests to seven-year-olds, to name a few grievances. In addition, there were bubbles and mold growing on the wall in my classroom that were never dealt with by DPS, the carpet that was crawling with ants (that my students would then pick up) was never treated, and there were cockroaches that my students would step on almost daily. My students and I would have to wear coats inside because the heat in my classroom would not go above 60°F. I had to put a club on my steering wheel every day, for fear of my car being stolen. It was all finally too much.
Saying goodbye to my sweet, lovely students made the decision so difficult, but ultimately I knew that for my physical and mental health, it was time for me to say goodbye to teaching after having this career for 12 years.
“Let me walk upon waters wherever You would call me.” Moving from teaching to the world of nonprofits was only possible due to my volunteer experience with the Junior League of Ann Arbor and the amazing mentorship I had from phenomenal women. About a month into my job at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County, I met Tammi Carr. From the moment I met her, she became a mentor to me in the world of nonprofit fundraising. Meeting Tammi is like being in this vortex of kindness, excitement, and purpose all rolled into one. It’s almost impossible to not be inspired by whatever she’s inspired by.
One day we were driving around together picking up items for an event, and she asked me about my cancer journey. After sharing with her my story, she said, “I would never wish cancer upon anyone.” Two days after this conversation, her three-year-old son Chad was diagnosed with DIPG. Again, I remember exactly where I was when I learned this news — sitting in my office at BBBS with my co-worker Jen. We were both completely stunned by the news.
As many in the community did, I rallied behind the Carr family, helping out in any way I could. Even during that hard time, Tammi continued to be a mentor to me as I continued on my career journey of fundraising. About three months after Chad died, I became the director of Ele’s Place. This intersection of our relationship is once again fortuitous as she not only became an Ele’s Place family member working through her grief, but the foundation she worked for was a key donor in the campaign for the permanent Ele’s Place building.
“Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.” While I was going through my cancer journey, I knew that I had a calling to one day fundraise for cancer research, particularly for children’s cancer. Every part of my professional life involved helping children, and as a cancer survivor, I knew I had to make an impact in that space.
Kismet can pop up in any moment, and the opportunity to be a part of the Chad Tough team was just that moment. Every part of my life, professionally and personally, had prepared me for fundraising for pediatric brain cancer research. To now work alongside my mentor and friend is nothing short of a gift. I believe that my time at ChadTough will “take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,” into a place where we find a cure for DIPG. Living with and through fear is what has allowed for change, challenge, and calling in my life.
The connections in our lives are like delicate spider silk. To trust that those thin strands won’t break is to lean into the unknown and believe that in the end, the web of your life will be beautiful.
A woman who has had multiple careers, mom of four and passion for dance, Monica Brancheau is a Michigan native and graduate of the University of Michigan who then never left Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in working with children’s issues from education to non-profit work in teaching in urban settings, non-profit management, marketing and fundraising. When not working you can find her gardening, reading, writing, listening to music, and spending time with her treasured family.