Tag Archives: hannahhager

‘Taste the Feeling’ of Coca-Cola’s love for data

Coca-Cola may be known for bringing people together, but this wasn’t always the case. Its cross-functional operations were once very decentralized, but after implementing its shared service center using a centralized SaaS model, everything changed. Karla Younger, VP of HR Services, and her team have found the recipe for success – the data reveals the support function’s history and projects its future need.

“When we created shared services we lifted and shifted those operations into our model. So we didn’t necessarily transform before we moved it in,” says Karla Younger, the Vice President of HR Services for Coca-Cola refreshments.

Karla Younger THUMBNAIL
Karla on Coca-Cola was first published on HRSSOutsourcing.com

Now, thanks to a centralized SaaS model, Karla and her team have the recipe for Shared Services Success by having a look at just what’s happening in the support they provide. After collecting this intelligence, the data reveals the history of the support function and projects future need. The foundation of the transformation is really about merging all the data together to become more and more integrated. Only after integration is achieved can senior executives become fully aware of all the touchpoints. The final, fully-baked result is the emergence of a better functional picture based off of the interweaving data points.


“In the SaaS model you can do it a lot faster. It’s more agile, so you can start to build configurations, review it, tweak it and continue in that iterative cycle … we’ve been doing that with new technologies we’ve been putting in place and it’s much faster than we saw other like-ERP type of technologies in the past,” she says.

In the future, Coca-Cola wants to amp up automation for a faster turn around on employees’ more complex inquiries. Mobile apps will play a key role in delivering this information in a quicker and more effective way. Of course, the way to meet this constant evolution of technology, and continue the center’s reputation for groundbreaking innovation, is by mining for talent within the employees themselves.

“We have found individuals within our organization who have skills that we’re not necessarily using. So, we’ve been really focusing on providing some stretch opportunities, developing individuals, being able to flex them around as we have other initiatives and projects going on, and that’s worked really well over the last few years,” she says.

My interview with Karla was conducted at the HRSSO event in Orlando. 

“The Joy of Pepsi-Cola” is found in its global model

It’s not always a joy when you’re undergoing a global transformation in an organization like PepsiCo. As if it’s not hard enough to drive a new agenda with global processes, you must also make an effort to properly sort through all of the pushes and pulls to remain locally relevant. This is no easy feat when you’re driving the change in a company that’s larger than some small countries.

Even if your company doesn’t have 260,000+ employees across 84 countries, you still need to be of two minds when implementing a global shared services strategy. What does this mean? We asked Shakti Jauhar, PepsiCo’s Global HR Operations and Shared Services, to explain.

Shakti HeadshotSimply put, you should think globally when the value is driven by consistency and standardization. Conversely, you should think locally when the value is driven by the needs and variations of specific markets, he says.

For example, motivations and rewards systems are different in different countries. These are initiatives that you don’t want to standardize across the globe. “It’s all about harmonization, and at the end, making sure that harmonization takes care of whatever the local regulatory environment is and the local needs are,” Shakti says.

Tomorrow’s successful Shared Services models will sink or swim on the backs of your HR professionals’ ability to be adaptive, agile and analytical. They will only be able to do so if you throw them the lifejacket of standardization. Demonstrate the high-level need for change management, communication and engagement to the executives on your team. Meanwhile, you’ll also need to listen to the positive and negative experiences of the locally-based teams to make sure you’re taking a constant pulse of the changes. Their feedback will provide you with the data you need in order to make timely and effective adjustments.

The amount of knowledge and data that will continue to stream in to centers across the world will require analytical abilities that have perhaps never been seen before. Thankfully, technology will step in to help carry this burden. The ideal center has a three-layered approach to technology, according to Shakti. It’s built on a very simplistic technology infrastructure that supports any given cloud-based application platform, which allows the organization to maintain the technology as it moves and changes. On top of it all of this is all of the devices.

Now is the time to set up a support structure for those processes that lend themselves to self-service, whether it’s employee management or HR, so that the affected business teams are free to leverage technology instead of the old process. Although technology ends up playing a large role, transformation is not about technology, it is about process. It’s about being able to leverage the information, and the data, to be able to help the business goal, he says.

“So, if I have that three-layer infrastructure, I can then plug and play all the new startup innovations that come in, plug them in, leverage them, use them, be more efficient, plug it out, and put in a new one if I need to,” he says. “At the end of the day, we need to be agile in order to get to that point where we can start to really leverage what is coming to us from an innovation perspective, from all these startups that we think about and we talk about all the time.”

This is a summary of an interview with Shakti Jauhar from the HR Shared Services event.

Write like a 5th grader to make more money

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” – Albert Einstein.

Let me explain what he means: Your copy should be #basic. Overly-complicated copy is filled with adjectives, adverbs, countless clauses, technical terms and business jargon. This is costing you money.

The science behind it is hiding right under your fingertips and within your favorite word processing software. Microsoft Word is equipped with this fun little tool called the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, which is a formula that determines how easy-to-read your copy is to the average American.

The idea was born of the “plain language” movement in the 1960s, which itself was an attempt to increase the comprehensibility of government documents. It has since been fleshed out to become a very useful metric for marketers and advertisers to tailor copy to their targeted audience.

Brand experts will tell you that the key to writing a killer slogan or tagline is for it to be memorable, emote positivity, and differentiate the brand from its competitors. All of this is true, but what is missing is the simplicity of language.

Are writers allergic to simplicity? They shouldn’t be, considering the most successful slogans are also the most plain: Nike’s “Just do it.” McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It.” Visa’s “It’s everywhere you want to be.” 

Keep it simpleThis is vital to ensuring that your brand doesn’t become trapped and die in its primary channel or media. How does a brand come to life across all its touch points and in a consistent manner? Through consistency in product design and software – all of which translate to a cohesive experience.

There are visible and physical languages, said Michael Lenz, Director, Global Brand Experience and Design at Cisco, but the human touch – using words to fulfill the brand promise – is often what is missing.

You don’t change your identity when switching jobs or locations, so why would your business change its voice depending on the channel? The marketing. The labels. The colors. All should deliver on your brand’s promise. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then take into account that the average Cisco user has 3,200 touch points. It hasn’t always been easy for them, either.

They knew there was a problem when one customer wrote-in, “I am a solid Cisco fan, but how many hours do they expect me to waste trying to understand their shit?” Yikes.

The problem was that no one understood what the hell Cisco was talking about. They had to undergo a massive overhaul to remove any engineering or product developer “speak” within their copy. It took several revisions, but the resulting copy became short and relevant; bold and human, Lenz said.

No one wants to read copy that is “too” anything: too educational, technical or clunky. Have you ever read Insurance policy packets? Painful. French author Marcel Proust? Brutal.

The next time you sit down to write, imagine that you’re a musician or composer. Consider that writing words on the page is no different than scribbling down musical notes to draft a song. Words, sentences, paragraphs and pages also need a melody and an obvious beat to them.

So, channel Taylor Swift the next time you’re tasked with drafting an article, marketing email or advertising copy. Her songs are so successful because they’re repetitive (most people must see or hear phrases eight-to-nine times before it sticks), but mostly because they’re simple.


Simplify your readability in these four steps:

  1. Click the Microsoft Office Button Office button image, and then click Word Options.
  2. Click Proofing.
  3. Make sure Check grammar with spelling is selected.
  4. Under When correcting grammar in Word, select the Show readability statistics check box.

Managing Outbound Control on the U.S. & Mexican Border

The illegal exportation of weapons, ammo, technology and people from the U.S. is discussed in this interview with John Woods, Assistant Director at U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement. We also examine the limited controls in place and how it limits effectiveness. He also investigates the infrastructure in place for inbound peoples and goods and how outbound exports are managed without them.

What new technology and surveillance equipment developed for overseas conflict can be used to enforce border security at home? (ex., the automated tracking device initially meant to find roadside bombs), which can now be used to track down illegal border crossers?

We in investigations at Border Security use a tracking device initially meant for roadside bombs to identify illegal border crosses. It’s good for organizations like CBP in identifying and securing the border that way.

We in HSI look at the border a little differently. We look at it as an investigation. We look at the vulnerabilities at the border and establish and identify those transnational criminal organizations that use the border as a way to illicitly move their goods.

That being said, we look at technology such as the control of Big Data and how we can utilize it. Looking at declarations and inventories of things that are believed to be in the country and being able to look for anomalies in that would identify either packages or freight or some sort of trend that would identify illicit movement of goods or strategic technologies, so that we can identify those people and then target them for investigation or for outbound inspection. We look at the equipment or new technology a little differently. We look at more the examining of the Big Data.

Could you provide an example in which this was successful?

Take for example using, combining and putting in data from multiple databases into one analytical support program and then using and dumping algorithms that would look for the anomalies that we would identify for targeting. Another example would be identifying several packages that were being shipped under a false company out of Miami going to South America. We determined that they carried weapons in them and were able to stop the flow of the weapons through this process.

Because with the volume of commerce that goes in and out of the United States, we don’t have the resources to open every container and express package. So you have to be able to find out which ones that you want to target and then target them successfully.

Jumping ahead a little bit, what would be the weakest link currently in outbound control, since that’s your expertise, in the US?

Right now the problem in outbound control is mostly with the people at the land border. We recently went into an agreement with Canada at the land border where we have their entry system as our exit system. So as they identify people and bring them into Canada, we share that data with them so we can identify that the individual has left the United States. Unfortunately, the Mexican border control is not set up in a similar fashion to Canada or ourselves, so it’s not logical that we can use that land border data as an exit system.

So it’s very difficult right now, and the weakest link is probably trying to identify people that leave the United States so we can determine that they’ve left on time, and we’re not looking for people that maybe have overstayed their visa but have left at the land border of Mexico.

Is there a way that you could use the relationship that you have in Canada, in Mexico? Is that something that you’re looking at?

Yeah, unfortunately not because of the way the Mexican immigration is set up. Their checkpoints are further inland than in Canada, so the reliability of the data they collect wouldn’t be good. So they would have to build an infrastructure that would cost them lots and lots of money, to establish the same way we have an infrastructure at its ports of entry.

That being said, we do look at other technologies like license plate readers. The CBP is developing technologies that can be used at both the airport environment and the land border environment to identify people who leave the United States.

Border security, especially in Mexico, is a politically hot-button issue. So how have you been able to navigate the politics of what you do? Or is that not something that you face day-to-day?

Well it’s something that I would face day-to-day, because I’m here in Washington. So I have political ramifications of issues. You know, I have to go before congress and discuss the issues. And you’re right; it is a hot-button issue.

I’ve been in this game for 27 years, and it’s been a very political issue for all 27 years. I came in when they first established the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, and they were going to stop the flow of illegal aliens into the country by getting rid of the magnet, which was employment. We were going to have employers verify people. Has that stopped the flow? No. Have other enactments such as terrorism acts, stopped the flow of aliens? No. Because the magnet is still here, this is still the best country in the world, and a lot of people want to come here and live here and make their lives better.

That being said, we did take an oath to enforce the laws, and one of the laws is that you should not come here illegally. So it’s based on the border patrol and our investigative abilities. That’s where our best bang for our buck is; to go after the smuggling organizations that facilitate the illegal alien entries and stop the flow that way. We use various technologies such as a metal chain-link fence or an electronic fence that has sensors in the ground to identify those illegal crosses and better use our resources to apprehend them and stop them from entering the United States.

So what is the biggest threat to U.S.? Is it economic or loss of intellectual property by the illegal exportation of our technology?

That, to me, is a big threat. I mean, I oversee the export enforcement role here in HSI, and I feel that our strategic technologies either being a.), stolen, or b.), just purchased and illegally exported without license, is a very huge threat to our national security.

We have advanced technologies that make us a great nation, that protect us from our enemies, and by allowing any of those materials to fall into enemy hands defeats our ability to have the upper hand. So we need to protect and ensure that those technologies that are licensable and eligible for export only go to the right hands, which would be our friends and people that we want to trade with. We want to make sure that those items also fall in the right hands and are not used against us. So it is a huge threat.

This article was originally published on

Blurred Lines: How Mexican Drug Cartels Breach Our Physical and Cyber Borders

Border Security Agents perusing the U.S./Mexican border.
Border Security Agents perusing the U.S./Mexican border.

Mexican drug cartels are creative. They’re creative with laundering their money across our physical borders and they’re creative with money laundering in cyber currency. Sylvia Longmire is a former Intelligence Analyst and USAF Special Agent. She is also the owner of Longmire Consulting and has extensive experience dealing with cartels and their money laundering.

Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and your professional background?

I started my career in the U.S. Air Force, as an active duty officer and special agent and I did a lot of work in counter intelligence, counter terrorism and counter espionage. Toward the end of my eight years in the Air Force, I did some analysis on narcoterrorism groups in Columbia, Peru and Latin America and Peru, and others.

I was medically retired in 2005. But, my husband is in the military, so we ended up in Northern California and I worked for the State of California’s Office of Homeland Security at the state’s fusion center for four years as a senior border security analyst. Until 2009 I was focused almost exclusively on the cartels, on drug trafficking, money laundering, weapons trafficking, and human smuggling, etc. In 2009, we had to move and I started my consulting business, I started freelance writing and now I’m a contributing editor for Homeland Security Today Magazine; I’m the author of two published books Border Insecurity, among other publications. I do a lot of training for police in the realm of the cartels and border violence.

What are some of the creative methods used by Mexican drug cartels to launder their money through US-based banks and businesses? Have you come across any “Breaking Bad”-esque moments that were particularly sophisticated?

The great thing about the cartels, there’s not much that’s great about them, but it kind of makes you laugh at some of the techniques that they use, not just for money laundering, but for moving drugs across the border. That’s one of the reasons why drug cartels are so successful and have managed to stay one step ahead of us. We’re always kind of playing a game of catch up.

An example of money laundering is Jose Trevino Morales, who is the brother of the former head of the very violent Los Santos cartel in Mexico. For years he was running a very lucrative money laundering operation out of Dallas, Texas, and Oklahoma in the horse racing business. Where they were basically buying and selling horses and racing them at this track and making a lot of money through the winnings and breeding these horses in a ranch in Oklahoma. They would buy the horses for a relatively small amount of money and then they would sell them for a really large amount of money and they would launder the money that way and through the winnings. It took a long time for the authorities to bust up that laundering ring.

They’ve also recently gotten involved in the mining business. Most people know that Mexico is well known for its petroleum exports and also for its tourism industry, but mining is one of the largest industries in Mexico as far as exports. Now the cartels have gotten into that, particularly with iron ore. The La Familia and Knights Templar cartel are involved in selling iron ore directly to some Chinese organizations. They get involved with extracting these minerals, sometimes legally, but there are a lot of mines that are not legally operated, which is lucrative for them because they don’t have to worry about the permits or anything like that. But, it’s dangerous for the people working there.

So, they will extract these minerals or they will go to legal mining operations and pressure, threaten or extort the people who are running these mines. They will go and they will sell, they will invest, in these mining operations, ship the minerals across the world, and then when they sell the minerals. That’s when they launder their money because that exchange looks legal on papers. So those are just some of the examples and there are quite a bit more.

Cyber currency and money laundering have forced traditional border security forces to be on their toes. Have border security officials become more flexible? Are they equipped to deal with the fluidity of these criminal organizations?

Cyber currency has been on the radar for at least a few years now. The average American probably has not heard of bitcoin or some of these cyber currencies that are out there because they really only got their start relatively recently, but the Treasury Department and law enforcement agencies have become attuned to the fact that terrorists groups and drug trafficking organizations are now taking a look at these kinds of cyber currencies in these markets as a viable way to transfer money from one place to another.

Recently I was asking the Deputy Director of ICE if they have looked into cyber currency and how aware are they of what’s going on. They know what’s going on, they’re taking a look at it and they have active investigations into the cartels using cyber currency. Still, it’s really hard to detect because its so anonymous and it does take a certain degree of technical skill to get into what we call the dark web because you have to use a certain part of the internet that is not accessible to just everybody.

It’s a little like the stock market; it doesn’t have a set value so it’s very volatile, which can make it a little riskier for cartels to transfer money and use it to launder money. As far as how popular it is or how thoroughly it’s being used by cartels, it’s not an absolutely enormous trend right now, but it’s enough of a move towards using cyber currency that U.S. law enforcement agencies like ICE and the Treasury Department are taking a look at it and seeing where it goes in the coming years.

This interview was orginially published on IDGA.

How to Avoid an Eye Laceration

Pace yourself when sipping your first glass of $7 Sauvignon Blanc at happy hour on Friday. Perhaps chug some water between your first and second glass. Take note that everyone around you is munching on half-price oysters, sliders and sushi and you’re not. Eat something.

Take the subway instead of a cab to your apartment so you realize how tipsy you already are. Perhaps pick up on the fact that the vodka drink isn’t necessary in order to re-do your make-up. Don’t believe it when you tell yourself that the benefits of the coconut water are rehydrating you while the vodka dehydrates you.

At dinner, let someone else suggest ordering a bottle of sake for the table. Don’t pick the 19 proof brand sake that’s in a tin bottle resembling a diesel gas can. Or perhaps don’t wash down the sake with a vodka soda. Realize there’s no need to order another bottle of sake to celebrate a fifth friend joining the table. Eat the rice that came with your salmon teriyaki because you do, in fact, need the additional carbs.

Eye glasses aren't so bad when smiling is involved.
Eye glasses aren’t so bad when smiling is involved.

When you go home to drop off your friend’s stuff, reconsider before mixing more vodka coconut cocktails. Avoid awaiting the arrival of your coworker and his two friends. Perhaps consider sending them away. Instead of trying to cover up how drunk you already are, own up to how drunk you already are.

Don’t leave your friend at home when she falls asleep on the couch. Instead, stay home with her. Talk yourself into going to sleep. Stop and think – do you really need to barhop with your coworker, et al? Don’t drink that dark and stormy. Demand to go home when you feel the first wave of nausea. Go to your apartment and lay down in your roommate’s abandoned bed. Don’t scoot over to make room for your coworker. Don’t invite his friend to join you because you think you’re a nice person. You’re just drunk. Don’t initiate a conversation about a threesome because it’s not cute or ladylike. Don’t pass out without changing your clothes, without washing your face, without brushing your teeth or without taking out your contact lenses.

Wake up and drink water. Take out your contact lenses when you wash face. Don’t ignore the dryness in your eyes while you’re stuffing your face with a two-serving, fried chicken cemita sandwich in 10 minutes. Consider applying the eye drops that are in your purse. Don’t rub your eyes when it dawns on you that haven’t taken out your contacts in two days.

When you leave the Brooklyn Brewery to go home for a nap, actually get your ass off the couch and remove your contacts instead of just thinking about doing it as you drift off to sleep. Don’t just brush off the concern that arises when you awake with tears streaming out of your right eye.
Don’t assume it’s just your allergies acting up. Take out your contacts, put in eye drops and fresh lenses. Pop some ibuprofen and allergy medicine. Re-do your make-up and join your friends for pork belly and fried fish tacos. Take it seriously when your friends show concern that you may have pink eye. Decide that your eye really does fucking hurt – but only when you blink. Go home.

Don’t think ibuprofen will solve the problem that has overtaken your eye that is now red, swollen and full of mucous. Don’t pop more ibuprofen. Or Allegra. Or Benadryl for good measure. Call your mom. Put a bag of ice on your face. Call your mom again. Your eye is red and weepy and swollen? You have an eye laceration. Leave immediately when she tells you to go to the doctor.

Accept that you must leave your friends before brunch to go to Urgent Care. Describe your symptoms honestly. Don’t act surprised when your dyed eyes reveal lacerations under the UV light. Feel badly that there are not one, not two, but three cuts. Accept the prescription for eye drops and ointment. Don’t freak out that you can’t wear contact lenses or eye make-up for one week. Instead, accept responsibility.

Walk immediately to the pharmacist. Remember eyeglasses aren’t sunglasses and people can see you looking at them. Buy coconut water and Gatorade. Go home, take off your glasses and let your right eye cry itself to sleep.

The Top 5 Reasons to Outsource Your Marketing

Marketing isn't as easy as 1-2-3.
Marketing isn’t as easy as 1-2-3.

Marketing is simple, right? Everyone is aware of the boxes that need to be checked: Launch a website and set up a Facebook page and Twitter account. Perhaps you assign someone on your business development team the task of maintaining a corporate blog with the goal of posting several times per week. You create a strategy, an agenda and an editorial calendar. Then, you sit back and wait for your plan
to take hold and gain attention, traction and a countless number of clients.

But, sometimes not everything goes to plan. Maybe you hit a plateau of Facebook likes or you realized you’re not quite sure what to post on Twitter. Perhaps you have a sneaking suspicion that no one is reading your blog posts. Slowly, your enthusiasm and interest in your marketing plan dwindles and it’s clear that there is no proven return on investment of your time and resources. You’re not sure anyone is hearing your message and you don’t know how to track your campaigns.

Don’t lose heart. The digital age is among us and establishing your brand online is a must. What you need is a digital marketing plan that includes Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC), content creation, blog integration and social media. Entire marketing firms, such as Cirgenski Marketing, exist to evaluate and execute upon marketing strategies. The firm spends days, weeks and months perfecting marketing plans. You’re not in that business, so why do you expect yourself to be a marketing maven on their level?

Placing your marketing in the hands of experts with the know-how to execute tailored plans is just one reason to consider outsourcing your advertising and branding goals. Outsourcing saves you time. It says you money. Consider that running an effective online marketing campaign will cost you at least $3,000 per month, according to Forbes. The truth is your competitors are most likely spending several times that amount. If that number seems exorbitant to you, keep in mind that hiring an in-house marketing and SEO professional will cost at least $50,000 per year at a base level. An experienced professional will demand upwards of $70,000 depending on your location.

Outsourcing not only saves you money, but it also ensures that your message will be heard. But, there are even more benefits than that. Let’s take a look at the top 5 reasons you should outsource your marketing campaigns.

Reduced overhead

There’s no need to hire additional personnel when you choose to outsource your marketing. Not only will you save $50k+ in salary and benefits – depending on your location – but you can also avoid or reduce costs spent on office space, overhead and hardware.

Increased time management

Even if you have your own marketing department, outsourcing at least some of your marketing spend will free up your in-house personnel to focus on strategy instead of “busy work.” Your team will have the ability to play to their strengths and focus on branding deliverables as well as the business’s core focus.

The gift of impartiality and neutrality

Sometimes it’s hard to separate yourself from your marketing plan. Of course you believe in your product and service – if you didn’t, why would you be in business? By outsourcing your marketing you will have a fresh set of eyes on what you truly have to offer and, conversely, what it is that your clients and/or customers need and want. Outsourced marketing agencies identify and deploy depending upon the company’s goals and its budget alone without being bogged down by a clouded vision.

Expanded talent and creative pool

Your staff can’t do it all. Perhaps they excel at email marketing, but their skillset is not up to par in SEO or PPC. Outsourcing allows you to be more agile on complex projects that require acute understanding on numerous components of the marketing plan. While you might not be able to hire in-house for the functions that you need, outsourcing allows for the ability to enjoy new, innovative and creative ideas and energy at half the cost.

A fresh perspective

This leads to the last benefit of outsourcing: A fresh perspective that is not influenced or handcuffed by an established company culture. It might not be for lack of dedication or ability, or even resources, but perhaps your team may not be able to see the forest for the trees. Oftentimes marketers become too involved with their functions that they forget or are unable to take a step back and analyze their strategies from the customer’s perspective. An outsourcing team often provides the fresh, objective perspective that is so hard to maintain.

It’s clear by now that outsourcing marketing is a viable option. But, who should you trust to handle this very important function? You need a firm who will evaluate your current marketing programs to identify where there are opportunities for optimization.

This includes taking a close look at your top competitors and identifying/developing your differentiation and key advantages over them. If clients already have a marketing plan in place, firms such as Cirgenski Marketing look at key indicators such as the marketing mix and implement solutions to find the best opportunities suitable for your business’s end goals. Next, they develop a customized integrated marketing plan which includes recommendations for the top prioritized marketing initiatives that all will provide the best results. What better outcome is there?

I Don’t Know If I Deserve Your Sympathy for my cancer

In my mind, my mortality was never really in question.

The loss of my hair and the scarring of my shoulder – those were at the forefront. I have very superficial concerns for what I consider to be my very superficial cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma.

“You will be fine,” my dermatologist repeated twice, adding that I have “the best skin cancer you could want.”

I already knew that I would be fine. After all, I’m not the first one in my world to suffer from cancer and survive.

In 2006, I watched from the sidelines as breast cancer ravaged my mom’s body. Not only were her breasts torn apart, reddened and disfigured, but her whole body was transmuted. She lost her sense of smell. She lost the ability to enjoy food, which was poisoned by the radiation treatments that left a distinct after taste of metal in her mouth. Once, I caught a glimpse of her in the garden wearing a baseball hat that shielded her barren head from the sun. She was a middle-aged woman, but I had mistaken her for a pre-teen boy. This figure who had always been larger than life to me was suddenly, inexplicitly diminutive. I cried.

Some time later my sister’s gynecologist found a lump in her throat during a routine check-up. Tests revealed it was what they had feared: Thyroid cancer. Suddenly my beautiful, newlywed sister was tainted by a cancer mass. She would “be fine,” she told me. Her assertions didn’t stop the tears I shed when I was alone and had the time to think of life without her.

No one shed a tear for me when I was diagnosed with cancer.
I know this is true because my cancer is not attempting to kill me. It’s not quietly advancing through my blood and bones. It isn’t wreaking havoc on my endocrine system or latching onto my lymph nodes. No, my skin cancer is neatly tucked where it’s always been – living on my shoulder like a parrot who repeats backs to me as I look myself in the mirror: “You did this to yourself. You did this to yourself. You did this to yourself.”

My sore and I have been living together for the better part of two years. I call it a sore because that’s what it looks like – a shallow, superficial scab that won’t heal and has become engrained in my physique just as much as my freckles. My sore arrived around the same time I moved to Manhattan. I ignored it for the most part, dismissing it as an agitation that was caused by friction from my purse strap.

The trouble was that it wouldn’t heal. Instead, it would scab over and then a little time later it would bleed again. I made small efforts to slather it with Neosporin and bandage it, but for the most part I ignored what I had done to myself.

And, I had done it to myself. Years of lying out by the pool and beach had exacerbated what I am certain truly caused my skin cancer – the years I spent baking in a sunless tanning booth. I’m of Welsh and German descent and am naturally very pale. Every year I would strive to reach what I considered to be a more healthy and lively skin tone, but each year I would just capture more and more freckles and moles.

“This is from the sun,” my dermatologist repeated time and again. Yes, I’m aware. I’m aware of the times I spent tingling and crawling in my own skin from over exposure. I remember the bright red puffiness of my stomach and legs. I remember taking delight in peeling off the sheets of dead skin from the damaged areas.

I may be genetically predisposed, but the truth is I aided and embedded my skin cancer. Every summer I sent cancer an invitation into my life and at 29 years-old, it finally RSVP’d.

I don’t deserve anyone’s sympathy. I’m not dying and I did this to myself. My treatment will consist of this: I will have Mohs surgery where a cosmetic surgeon will strip off my skin layer-by-layer until the examined pieces are cleared of cancerous cells. Then, I will be stitched up and prohibited from running or doing yoga for one month so as not to agitate the sutures.

I won’t have to sit in a hospital room with other cancer patients and be drip fed a treatment that destroys other parts of my body. I won’t be shocked by radiation that will tinge my sense of smell and remove the pleasure of taste.

But, just because my cancer will be dismissed in a surgery that is no more invasive than when I had my tonsils and wisdom teeth extracted doesn’t mean I don’t want pity. I may not deserve it, but I want it. Having cancer – or being a “cancer survivor” – which I am not yet, opens up the door to another level of attention. I’m ashamed to admit that I knew right away I would revel in the attention my diagnosis would receive. Once you’re in the cancer club, you’re always in it. I looked forward to the pity. I looked forward to the reactions of my friends and family.

“What? Hannah! No!” said one friend. “That word alone is so scary.” Some squirmed in their seats or rested their heads in their hands not knowing what to say to me. I understood; I had been there once. I had at one time not known what it felt like to be betrayed by my own body.
Yes, I enjoy the pity. I embrace the attention. But when I revealed my diagnosis on Facebook I knew I was undeserving of it once the responses started rolling in.

“My dad passed away from Melanoma two years ago on Father’s Day. You can imagine my thoughts about this topic,” wrote one friend. Said another, “A very good friend of mine just turned 40 earlier this month and due to skin cancer, it will more than likely be her last birthday. She is a wife and a mom of two, including a 16 month-old baby. She was diagnosed with melanoma two weeks after her second son was born and is now fighting to live each day. Skin cancer is no joke.” I will be fine; I reassured them, as I took pure joy in the support their reactions reflected back on me. Conversely, when I told my boss my cancer diagnosis and that I would, regrettably, be missing time from work to undergo surgery, she dismissed it. “Oh, you’ll be fine,” she said. I felt belittled. I felt unjustified.

But, she’s right. I will be fine – for now. One day my moles might betray me and turn into melanoma. But, until then I will be fine, as my boss said. I will be fine, as my dermatologist said. I will be fine, as I continue to tell myself. Until one of my moles betrays me – or doesn’t – I will continue to dye my hair blonde because there’s no threat of it falling out from chemotherapy treatments. Until that happens, I will forget about the inconvenience of suspending my yoga practice for one month. Until that happens, I will grow used to the sizeable scar on my shoulder that will remind me: I did this to myself.

I have cancer, and the doctor says it’s my fault

I have cancer. What’s worse; there is no doubt I gave it to myself. Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most prevalent skin cancer in the U.S.; three in 10 Americans will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime. I anticipate that number will likely grow considering my generation’s goal to “always be bronzing.”

My thirst for a perennial glow was insatiable as a teenager. I’m of Welsh and German descent and am naturally quite fair skinned. Casper the Friendly Ghost could be my kin. But, now I’m spotted with freckles and moles from the innumerable sunbathing sessions that left my skin burned and blistered. When it peeled I would take sweet, sadistic pleasure in pulling off the sheets of dead skin.

Winter? Dash – my first job was a booth babe at a second rate hair and tanning salon. I would bake myself in the 20 minute booths and didn’t stop even when my body cried out in tingles and redness.

Fifteen years later and at 29 years-old I find myself in a dermatologist’s exam room being handed the Cancer Club card.

I will be fine, the doctor says. One surgery here and some check-ups there; I will live to bronze another day. But, because I am young it will likely be back.

One would think that Americans have been educated enough to stop burning themselves in the quest to achieve the perfect tan. But, I’m not so sure. Years ago I lost my lust for the sun when I realized wrinkles were a real threat. Vanity drives most measures, I’ve found. Now I’m of a small minority of my friend group who wears and reapplies sunscreen. Forget asking them to cover up or join me underneath the umbrella.

I may be on the lowest end of the fair complexion spectrum, but sun worshippers of all ethnicities need to take note of the damage caused by excessive exposure. Don’t put yourself through the agony of what the Cancer club could mean – sickness, hair loss, and even death.

Reduce your risk and follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommendations. In case you’ve forgotten: Use sunscreen SPF 15+ and reapply often, limit time in the sun, especially when the rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and wear clothing that covers exposed skin. After hearing my tale, several friends have scheduled appointments to be checked. Don’t wait for a loved one to suffer my fate, take it from me and protect yourself.

Preventing sexual abuse in NYC schools

I once tried initiating a relationship with my high school biology teacher. I was 16 years-old and he was in his late forties – gray hair and all.

Coming from a broken home, I lacked a father figure and therefore found no issue with my questions about his personal life; did he have a girlfriend? If so, what was she like? I lingered around his classroom after school in order to be alone with him.

Looking back, it’s difficult for me to say if I ever wanted anything to come of it. I certainly goaded him. And, I certainly didn’t know what I was doing as a naive teenager.

He never took my bait. But, throughout the New York City public school system not every teacher shows such restraint.

The NYC Department of Education released a report earlier this month that it has fielded nearly 600 complaints of sexual misconduct against teachers and faculty since 2009. The special commissioner of investigations Richard Condon said 104 of those cases were substantiated.

Some of these cases have been highly publicized. Two examples include Colleen Finn, a teacher at Aviation Career and Technical High School in Queens, who had sex with a student at least four times in 2010; and Salahudin Bholai, a teacher at the High School of Graphic Communications in Manhattan, who allegedly text¬ed a student a sexually explicit photo.

While nothing ever happened between my teacher and me, it is worth noting that I never told anyone either. Some students, like me, think they’re already grown up and able to handle an adult relationship. More often than not victims blame themselves and sometimes it’s not until years later that they realize what has happened.

Parents should take care to notice changes in their children and not immediately equate them with hormonal imbalances. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, warning signs in children who have suffered possible sexual abuse include: nightmares, distraction, changes in eating habits, sudden mood swings of rage, fear or withdrawal and thoughts of themselves as repulsive or dirty. Teenagers may show signs of self-injury, inadequate personal hygiene or drug and alcohol abuse.

Don’t dismiss these signs. Instead sit down with your child or teen and encourage them to be honest with you. Remind them that they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Respect their need for privacy and be an active listener. Ultimately, try to help them regain a sense of control over their lives that was stolen from them.