Inspired by the strength of her friend, author Doreen Rademacher wrote the book I Can and I Did: The Kelly Finger-McNeela Story. Rademacher, a journalism graduate from Central Michigan University, was an “accidental banker” as she calls it, for 22 years. But there was something missing. “I had developed expertise and comfort with a paycheck in my field, but I took a leap of faith,” she explains. “I was gathering information and a friendship with Kelly at the time, and it was all just calling to me.” McNeela was diagnosed with MS at age 15 and wheelchair bound by her college years. When Rademacher met her at her daughter’s elementary school in Belmont, Mich., she was drawn to her instantly and wanted to know her story. “That’s something I have loved since I started in journalism, profiling people with strong personalities,” she said. Out to lunch with McNeela, who is unable to use her hands, Rademacher was assisting her friend when something happened. “She was drinking raspberry lemonade and I didn’t know any chunks were in it at the bottom. She slurped one up and started choking,” she said. “I was so nervous I had done something wrong, but she cleared her throat and said ‘that would have been better with a shot of vodka,’” Rademacher laughed. That lunch Rademacher learned more about McNeela’s life. She had graduated from Michigan State University, had an internship with the United States Paralympics and played wheelchair tennis competitively in college. Rademacher realized people needed to hear this story. I Can and I Did features a chronological story of events that take place in McNeela’s life from her initial diagnosis to her journey into adopting a baby. As Rademacher went on to interview McNeela for the book, many changes were taking place in McNeela’s life. These obstacles started with a divorce, which left her stranded in the worst assisted living home that Rademacher had ever seen. Given these circumstances it’s easy to understand why McNeela said she was apprehensive about going along with the idea of the book, but her comfort with Rademacher trumped her worries. “Doreen is easy to talk to and has a great sense of morals and humor,” she said. Rademacher described how that raised an issue with her story in many different forms, for both her and McNeela. “In one hand, I see her trapped in this awful place and I just felt guilty. That could have been me and it could be anyone. Why this fantastic woman?” said Rademacher. “Also, every story has multiple perspectives, and I had planned to interview her parents, her now ex-husband and her daughter.” The first question her ex-husband asked was, “are you going to throw me under the bus?” The answer Rademacher said was “no,” she needed to be fair and hear both sides. The worsening of McNeela’s disease had left them both victims as he had turned from lover to caregiver within five years. Since the book has been published McNeela told Rademacher that reading her ex-husband’s part of the story has helped her understand his point of view. Also, McNeela has embraced and been thankful for the way she has personally felt since the book has been released. “I have felt like a superstar. It is great having people aware of what I have had to go through,” she said. “It’s easy to hear a story but it takes more time to understand what went into the story.” Today, McNeela is in a much better living situation at Green Acres Assisted Living Home in Lowell, Mich., where her daughter is able to visit frequently. McNeela said she would like to thank Rademacher for her time spent listening to her story. “I hope it helped some people,” she said. “Doreen spent many hours on this project and I hope it was as good for her as it was for me.” For Rademacher, writing the story taught her many valuable life lessons. “I’ve realized what are real problems, and what aren’t. We live in such a fast-paced society that we often don’t even realize how lucky we are,” she said. “Take some time to smell the roses. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. This has been such a humanizing experience.” Following her dreams was something that Rademacher was nervous about, but now fully believes in doing what you’re passionate about. For her it is truly the real deal and she has no plans to stop. “It’s a rare opportunity to be in your 40s and able to think about what you want to do when you grow up,” she said smiling. “It’s liberating to do something that I have my voice, my vision and my product in.”
Katelyn Sweet is a senior at Central Michigan University studying Integrative Public Relations and Journalism.