Amanda Clark Cocktails and Chemo
Turning Pain to Purpose
Writer / Lynda Hedberg Thies
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Returning to Indiana was not in the plan for Amanda Clark, a television reporter working and living in Orlando, Florida. The Roncalli High school grad was in the throes of planning her wedding to the love of her life, Joe Clark, deciding on place settings, bridal gifts and what to eat at the rehearsal dinner when her world turned upside down.
And with just two months before her fairytale wedding and two days before the love of her life’s birthday, they received the devastating news that Joe had Stage III Colon Cancer. But Joe and Amanda learned to love deeply, cherish the time they had, communicate what was really going on in this journey along the way and turned pain into purpose to help others.
The “Cocktails and Chemo Blog” was created when Amanda and Joe were trying to make sense of Joe’s diagnosis and the struggles they were going through after the diagnosis. They wanted a way to share what was happening with family and friends. The name came up because they realized that they would have to trade their cocktails for chemo treatments.
“I would look at Facebook and see that everyone seemed to be having the perfect life. There were pictures and videos of my friends buying their first homes, having babies and going on vacations. But here were Joe and I going to chemotherapy, doctor appointments and living in constant fear, so I started the blog to update my friends and be seen in my struggles.”
Amanda’s intention was to reach out to family members and friends and update them on Joe’s condition and their journey. But the result was that people connected to the way Amanda authentically shared her journey, and the blog grew to 10,000 followers. Both Amanda and Joe were amazed by the following, and that is when Amanda received a gift from one of their followers. The gentleman messaged her and told her that he had paid for her to enjoy a massage. She said, “I did not realize how much I had put myself last as a caregiver but how important this small gesture meant to me.” Amanda realized there was something to this “Cocktails and Chemo” message.
During their three short years of marriage and cancer, Joe was in remission for 11 months. During that time, they discovered they were pregnant. The overwhelming joy of realizing a goal of starting their family was soon overshadowed shortly thereafter by the return of Joe’s cancer. Spending both her pre-wedding and pregnancy time going to doctor appointments and chemotherapy, both Joe and Amanda continued to share their journey until Joe passed away two years ago in September 2014.
Then there was only Amanda’s voice. The blog now had over 20,000 followers, and she decided to turn her pain into purpose. The blog is now part of the services that Amanda offers in the Cocktails and Chemo Foundation, a nonprofit organization that was formed with the vision to make a difference to the often-forgotten caregivers of cancer patients. Amanda shared, “Joe asked me to keep this blog going after he passed, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do
with it, but I just felt I owed it to Joe and our daughter to keep his legacy alive.”
Turning the gift of that massage into a simple reminder that caregivers need self-care, especially during a time like this, was the reason she created care packages for the caregivers. “I have learned through this journey that it is hard to know how to be a friend and support someone that is going through this journey. It can be incredibly isolating, especially if your friends or family are not sure what to do.”
“We are not really taught how to talk about painful subjects like terminal illness and death. Sometimes people have funny ideas about grief, like how long it is supposed to last, and anything after that is strange. People grieve the loss of normalcy of the life and dreams they once had, and they also grieve when the person passes. There are definitely no rules when it comes to grief, but people will still tell you that you have a year or some certain timetable that is ‘acceptable’ to grieve. But grief doesn’t work like that. But if we don’t talk about, it ends up isolating the person who is already overwhelmed and burdened with the care of their loved one.”