How to Bounce Back from a Career Change: An Interview with Kate Donahue

“When I was young, I thought I would go to college and get a great paying job that I enjoyed and work there the rest of my life,” remembers Kate Donahue. “In one week, I will be twenty-five and still have not earned my Bachelor’s Degree, let alone a great paying job that would get me out of my parents’ house!”

Like many twenty-somethings today, Kate’s early dreams haven’t quite come to fruition yet. She started a college path that was supposed to lead toward a career in communications—a choice she hoped would bring her closer to her hopes of becoming a sports broadcaster. Then, an epiphany changed everything. Kate decided massage therapy was her true calling. She attended an introductory class a local school offered on pursuing massage therapy.

“I attended the course and heard about a former student being a therapist for the New York Giants,” the sports fan recalls. “This won my heart over entirely. I think I may have gasped out loud after the woman said it, and I almost fell out of my chair. Even though it’s a completely different path from sports broadcasting, there are still sports involved, so it’s not such a big career change after all.”

Kate finished schooling despite the long hour requirements and found a job two months later. Unfortunately, just when things were getting good, the new therapist had to make yet another career change—this time due to a health problem.

“The first six to eight months [of massage work] I was fine and only felt mildly sore or tired after a busy day full of fix to six massages,” she remembers. “After a year of constant deep tissue massages, on people sometimes the size of football players, I started feeling carpal tunnel syndrome-like pains down my arm, but especially in my hand.”

With her career hanging in the balance, Kate decided to get the pain in her hand checked out.

“I went to the doctor, was diagnosed with a strained flexor digitorum (muscle in your forearm) and slight nerve damage,” she says. “The more I massaged, the worse it got.”

With only one year of massage therapy behind her, Kate realized it was time to pack up.

“I felt a mixture of sadness and relief,” she recalls. “I truly enjoyed giving massages.”

In retrospect, Kate admits that she would have made some different choices had she known of her eventual plight.

“One of the major things I would change,” she says, “would be taking more continuing education classes on body mechanics and refresher courses on techniques—especially for deep tissue massage. I feel if I took more of those classes after graduating I could have avoided the nerve damage I now have. I also wish I would have applied to other spas and given myself choices…”

Now, working full-time as a receptionist at a seasonal pool company, Kate has had time to alter her course. Still hoping to work in the healing professions, she anticipates more schooling, bills, and books. But, in the process, Kate has been able to go after other meaningful ventures.

“I plan to take a few classes at my local community college to better my chances of getting into Misericordia University for Occupational Therapy,” she says. “I also plan to fulfill one of my passions by taking a continuing education class to learn Oncology Massage, in order to work with cancer patients.”

As a family member to multiple people diagnosed with the disease, Kate knows what others are going through, and she hopes to introduce something positive to their lives. The oncology massage requires a very gentle touch for sensitive cancer patients.

“Cancer is one of those diseases that hits me hard and breaks my heart,” she says. “My favorite person in the entire universe, my grandmother, was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was in my senior year of high school… I sat at her side holding her hand and taking care of her for hours …”

In 2009, Kate’s maternal grandmother was also diagnosed with cancer. Luckily, her granddaughter was devoted and helpful when it came to getting her the best care she could receive.

“Before getting my job, I took her for her chemotherapy treatments and doctor’s appointments,” she says. “Other patients in hospice don’t always have someone in their family that is up to the task of taking care of them… Cancer is a disease, and when someone mentions disease, we tend to single them out and shy away. Cancer patients want nothing more than to be treated like they’re healthy, so I would like to be able to make them feel that way.”

Despite a change of direction and a path put on hold, Kate maintains that she’s now able to pursue a profession she truly cares about.

She says, “Within five years my goals are to be a certified Occupational Therapist working with war veterans and sports teams, to move out on my own, and to adopt a dog!”

Having attainable goals and a new appreciation for time, Kate is motivated to make it happen.

“I can’t help thinking how fast twenty-five years have passed and how fast another twenty-five years will pass. Thinking in this light has definitely motivated me to kick my butt into gear and reach my goals.”

Though life’s hardships can bring down the best in all of us, Kate works hard to take pleasure and appreciation from the simple things.

“LIFE makes me happy,” she says. “Being able to wake up another day to feel the sun on my skin, taste the salt water in the air, breathe in the sweet aromas of my father’s garden, see lightning strike up the entire sky, and hear the wind blow through the trees are the things I cherish most besides the love of my family and friends.”

She practices gratitude for the good she has, and it’s proving to get her through the toughest of days.

For more articles by Sara Kosmyna.

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