You'd like Jackie Kelley if you met her. She's unassuming and proper. She's bright-spirited and jovial. Here at the Noble Research Institute, she works in the Communications Department, handling whatever tasks are asked of her (and then some). A self-taught copy editor, she's the first person that reads everything I write. She makes sure that my participles don't dangle and my commas are unspliced.
It's fair to say that Kelley lived a happy routine with work and family, so she wasn't prepared to hear that word, that fear-inducing, mortality-facing word. No one, of course, is ever ready to hear that they have cancer, but her doctor said it. She had it. Game on.
Kelley had two realizations in the weeks following her cancer diagnosis. First, she understood that beating cancer required embracing her internal Rocky Balboa. Her resolve steeled, and she became as tough as a rhino's callous. Sure there were tears, but she wasn't just fighting back, she was bare-knuckle brawling. Kelley also quickly realized her family wasn't the only group in her cheering section.
In the hours after her diagnosis, Kelley returned to work - shell-shocked and afraid- and two coworkers rushed to her side. In the weeks to come, a support team began to amass. They assembled goodie baskets to help preoccupy her during chemotherapy. They took daily walks. They listened and encouraged.
And they did something that transcends "coworker" relationships, something that spoke directly to the spirit of the Noble Research Institute.
When Kelley's hair began to fall out, she decided to avoid the inevitable slow shedding, so she buzzed it off. A few swipes of the clippers and she was bald for the first time since she was a baby. For Kelley, the smooth head served as an external reminder of the internal struggle. It was a battle scar.
Kelley returned to work the next day to find every woman in her building wearing a pink bandana. They were soldiers in her army. They were in her fox hole. "It was so touching," she said, smiling, but dabbing her eyes. "The love and support just blows me away. I always thought you had two sets of friends - work friends and outside friends. But these ladies are some of my truest friends. I am so thankful for them."
Kelley's experience is hardly isolated. Lynn Jacobs, a research assistant, was diagnosed with the same form of cancer and experienced the same universal compassion from her Noble coworkers. The many gifts were greatly appreciated, but Jacobs cherishes the newly formed bonds the most. "I had these intense conversations and laughed harder than I have in years," Jacobs said. "I got to know fabulous people that I wouldn't have if I had never been diagnosed. They were here for me in a way you don't often see at a job."
And the stories go on and on.
This summer, Chuck Coffey, a pasture and range consultant, was thrown from his horse. The bucking motion was so violent that it sheared his pelvis from the spine, literally dislocating the upper and lower parts of his body. Coffey endured a month in the hospital, two major surgeries and - so far - four months of rehabilitation. (It could be two years before he completely recovers.)
His fellow employees rushed to provide aid. The visits, the gifts and the dinner runs to supplant bland hospital food were all overwhelming acts of kindness, then Coffey returned home to find something that - to this day - makes him fight back tears. A team of Noble employees constructed not only a ramp for his wheelchair, but they packed a gravel landing pad for easy, clean access and a new deck where he could sit in his wheelchair. "That deck was a life saver," Coffey said. "Instead of being stuck in the house, I'd sit out on the front porch all day until I couldn't stand the heat. I don't know how to put into words how it feels to receive that type of genuine love. That's real, that's special. It just shows that this Foundation is more than just a job."
"This place is more than bricks and buildings," she said. "There's something special here. It's not just our mission or programs, but it's the people. They come from all over the world, and they share this universal genuineness and compassion. They're the spirit of this place. They're the Noble spirit."