The Bright Spot in People's Lives

Jean Holec Turned Personal Tragedy Into a New Mission


By John David Mann

Jean Holec was a stay-at-home Midwestern mom, with three children: Christopher, the eldest, daughter Erin, and Brittney ("my baby"), who turned 21 this past December. Whatever free time she could manage, Jean spent volunteering in the schools.

"One year I was 'room mom' for all three kids' grades, because we just couldn't get enough moms. There aren't too many stay-at-home moms, these days; I'm basically a dinosaur!"

Jean's husband Rick worked with his dad in the family business, gradually taking over as his dad grew older. After Christopher graduated from high school, he started helping out with the business as well, part time, while attending college locally, though he didn't plan to stay local for long: his girl friend was attending a university in Florida, and Christopher had just received a hockey scholarship to the same university.

Those plans, however, were not to be. One mild day in that stretch of calm that separates summer from fall, Jean went out to lunch with Christopher and saw something that would change the direction of her life.

A Five-Year Journey

As Jean joined Christopher for lunch, she noted that he was dressed for the mild Illinois weather--and then she noticed more.

"Seeing him in his tee-shirt, I couldn't help being surprised at how thin he was. At six-foot-one, he weighed no more than 140 pounds. Then I noticed several lumps on his neck."

That started the Holec family's odyssey through fears and reassurances, diagnoses and prognoses and a five-year battle with Hodgkin's Disease--a battle the Holecs ultimately lost.

Christopher was misdiagnosed at first, the doctors arriving at their identification of Hodgkin's only after going back and forth for some time. Once the diagnosis was certain, six weeks of radiation followed.

"That was no picnic," recalls Jean, "But after that he was in remission."

About a year after that fateful lunch date, Jean was doing some work with friends at the local high school when one of the women who worked there came in "all in a tizzy."

"A company she worked with was offering this special, gorgeous handmade basket as a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society, and the offer was good only during July and August. Today was August 31--she had to get her order together and into the company."

Jean was intrigued.

"It was called the Horizon of Hope basket, and this company was donating a portion of every sale towards breast cancer research. I told her, 'You've got to get me one; get me one with a boyish liner!' I was going to give it to my son, who was doing well at this point."

Although the radiation had scarred his lungs badly enough that he couldn't play competitive hockey, Christopher had managed to go back to school. Jean, meanwhile, fell in love with her basket when it arrived. Indeed, she fell in love with everything about the company that had produced it.

"I quickly became my consultant's best customer," she says.

Before long, though, the Hodgkin's returned; this time, Christopher went through eight months of chemotherapy.

"Erin was in college now, Brittney was just starting high school, Rick had to keep the business running--I really became a full-time care-giver. I took our son to all his therapy appointments and was the go-between with the doctor."

While her family would rib her unmercifully (if good-naturedly) about her "basket company," the catalogs and mailings she received from them became a comforting bright spot in her life.

"While Christopher would sleep, I would look through the latest mailing they'd sent me. The quality was always so beautiful; the pictures always made me feel good."

After the eight-month course of treatment, Christopher was cancer-free again...for six weeks. The disease then came back with a vengeance and landed Christopher back in the hospital.

"He was never in there by himself for even a moment," says Jean. "Erin dropped out of college, Brittney tutored at home and Rick took a leave of absence. We all rearranged our lives any way we could so we could take care of our son."

Take care of him they did, day and night, until a week before his 24th birthday, in October of 1999, when Christopher Holec lost his battle and the Holecs lost their son.

A Way to Give Back

Wrenching though the tragedy was, something in the experience had touched Jean, something so powerful that it stayed with her.

"That whole time, everyone was so great to him--the nurses, the doctors, all the people we worked with. Five years later, I'm still really close with our son's doctor; in fact, I've sort of adopted him! It's like having a little brother."

All the people involved had been so wonderful, says Jean, she knew she had to give something back. But what, and how?

"That summer, about nine months after we'd lost Christopher, my girlfriend (who was also my consultant) took me to her company's annual convention. As I sat there and listened to them talk, I thought, this is unreal."

The company's founder, it turned out, had died just six months or so before Christopher--also from cancer. His two daughters, now in their mid-30s, had taken over the family business. Indeed, it all felt a lot less like a corporation to Jean, and more like a gigantic family.

"The company really touched me. It was like a light bulb going on. I thought, 'This is it!' "

Sitting in the convention auditorium, she knew that this would be the vehicle through which she could give back to all the people who had taken such loving care of her son. She would get involved in the business--not to earn money, but to give it.

"I'm a very shy person," insists Jean, "and I would never have thought to get up and talk in front of people like this. But I realized that this was my one way of giving back. I could become a consultant and give all my profits back. We're not rich, by any means, but we're comfortable. I have everything I need.

"The one thing I want," she adds quietly, "money can't buy."

But it could help others. Jean became a consultant with her friend's company, launching a career that has been unusual even by network marketing's standards.

"I'm not really aggressive. I don't pound the pavement. We have people who sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth; our top seller does $300,000! I'd love to sell more than I do. But I am dedicated, and I would guess I'm a little unusual, in terms of the amounts I donate."

Which is to say, everything she earns--and more: Jean donates considerable time, as well. When she isn't directly involved with the operation of her business, Jean now invests her hours in volunteer work with the American Cancer Society.

"If there were some way I could speak to everyone in the world who is suffering from any kind of loss, here is what I would tell them: 'Whatever the reason for your loss, get involved in that organization!' Because they are the angels that have held me up and kept me going, and I'm sure any charitable organization is the same way."

The Bright Spot in People's Lives

Meanwhile, the company with the quality baskets has become a second family for Jean.

"I've become great friends with these people. I mean, these people are multi-millionaires--and they talk to me! I can call the president of our company up right now, and she'll just chat with me. She's that type of person."

The company has endorsed and created all sorts of charities and relief efforts, says Jean, and their consultants tend to be very responsive.

"Perhaps because of who the founder was and the company was based on, that's just the kind of people they generate as consultants."

And the woman who started out as "her consultant's best customer" now has a few best customers of her own.

"I have one young woman who keeps going no matter what, doing shows and giving me orders. I met her through the oncology office where she works, and she became a dear friend."

Jean's young friend lives with her parents: her father is now dying of cancer. Her mom stays at home with her dad while she goes to work to help support them all.

"She says that when she and her mom go paging through their latest catalog, it's the bright spot of their day."

That bright spot is something Jean knows only too well.

"After Christopher's funeral, I had no reason to get up in the morning. I didn't know what to do with myself. Being part of this company and the ACS gave me a reason. There's so much tragedy in the world--but so much good can be done by getting involved. It really doesn't take a special person. I'm just an average American mom, doing what I can."

An Unsuspecting Award Recipient

In the summer of 2002, Jean was selected for a special award, given annually to the representative who most embodies the spirit and vision of the company's founder. Here's the best part: she didn't have a clue she was that year's recipient until well into the reading of her introduction from the stage!

-- JDM


This is not an award you can win by achievement; it has nothing to do with performance, points or volume. Consultants nominate other consultants by writing to the company, saying why they think this particular person should be considered. The award is given at each of the company's three annual conventions, so out of 70,000 consultants, there are three winners a year.

In 2002, my branch advisor (my upline) wrote a letter nominating me. Unbeknownst to her, three other consultants in our branch also wrote letters. That year, there were about 180 or 190 nominees, from which they had to select three winners. My upline said that at the meeting they held to make the selection, when they read her letter out loud, the decision was unanimous.

Of course, I didn't know about any of this!

I must be the most naïve person in the world.

First of all, at the convention, our local group was seated up in front. My advisors made up a story to explain this: they said that our group got to sit up front because we had the most people attending. And I bought that.

Then, my regional advisor was seated next to me. I'm nobody special; I don't have especially high sales; if anything, I'm really in one of the lower categories, volume-wise. I thought, "Wow, this is really nice." My best friend, who is my upline, sat on my other side. They had figured that she might need to be there to drag me up on stage once my name was called out.

My branch advisor and two other gals from my branch went up on stage. I looked over at my friend, grabbed her hand and said, "Wow, are they lucky--they get to go up there and present the award!" She somehow managed to keep a straight face, probably thinking, "You dope!" But I thought it was cool: I knew somebody up there on stage!

Then they started to introduce the recipient. As they talked, I started thinking, "Gosh, that story sounds just like my story." Then it finally hit me: that was me they were talking about!

I cried through the whole thing. From what I understand, everybody else did, too.

-- JH