After her fourth cancer diagnosis in March of 2020, Helen Knost examined her life and decided to create her own consulting business, My Friend Helen, with a mission to leverage her diverse experience to support dynamic teams and inspiring innovators to help them achieve success and create enduring social impact. How she got to that point begins with her parents who opened the world for their children showing them that there was a lot out there beyond their own little corner of it. They also instilled in Helen a need and responsibility to give back and support family and community. So instead of caving into any of the cancer diagnoses, she fought back, and so far, is winning.
Helen was working as a wilderness ranger at the age of 24 when she noticed a lump in her throat. With no health insurance through her job, she moved to Santa Barbara where her family was living and got a job that provided insurance benefits. It took three months to get insured, then another two months to get the diagnosis and her first treatment for thyroid cancer. She was told that she was cured, but in six months there was another tumor, and another surgery, and in another six months a third one. This time, they paralyzed her left vocal cord, and she was told she might not talk again. She said she doesn’t sing, but obviously she did talk again.
The biggest hurdle during this time was that in 1995 there was no support system for people with cancer. She knew no one her age until she heard from some triathlete friends that they knew a young man in his 20’s that was “kicking cancer’s ass.” It was Lance Armstrong, and she was inspired by his fight and survival, and wanted to give back to the cancer community. She moved to Austin, Texas, to volunteer for the Livestrong Foundation, where a number of things happened: she met her husband, and was hired to work for the foundation. The skills she acquired in her 14 years there are just a few of the diverse experiences that Helen plans to use in giving back with her new business, My Friend Helen.
Cancer Warrior Told She Couldn’t Run Again
Dr. Nancy calls Helen “a cancer warrior,” observing that Helen had to learn what qualities she had that could help her be resilient and live past the cancer. One of the doctors’ predictions for Helen was that she would never run again. Helen said that she really wasn’t much of a runner, but when they told her she couldn’t, she decided to run a marathon—even though she had never done that before. When she crossed the finish line of the New York Marathon, she looked at the man who crossed on her right and he had a prosthetic leg; then she looked left and there was “a man about 5,000 years old.” Helen says, “Anyone can run a marathon. If I can and these two guys can, it’s what you put in your head. Don’t tell me you can’t run a marathon because I’ve seen the people finishing.” She promptly wrote a postcard to her surgeon from the finish line.
Services of My Friend Helen
When Helen considered what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, using her talent, gifts and experiences to give back were at the top of the list. She also wants to do about “a bazillion different jobs.” But she has boiled it down to three buckets. One is philanthropy. She’s helping foundations design major gift programs by identifying their top donors, teaching them how they can make a major impact with their gift and how they can improve their relationships by showing donors how their gifts impact the mission of the organization. A second bucket is the chief of staff role. Helen likes working behind the scenes in support of people who want to make a social impact. Her third bucket is project management. Helen says that if it doesn’t require an advanced degree, she can probably do it.
She traveled widely with the Livestrong Foundation, and did all of these things with them and elsewhere. She has worked as a nanny, a kindergarten teacher, and landscape designer. But most of all, her strongest skill is being a friend, which is defined as “someone that supports and gives assistance; is authentic and trustworthy; a person that is dependable, loyal and has your best interest at heart.”
Listen to this conversation to hear more about her friendship with Dr. Nancy and her courageous story. Then check out her website www.myfriendhelen.com to see a list of services and to contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.