Rising Through Resilience: “To develop resilience don’t compare yourself, EVER” With Dr. April Jones
Don’t Compare Yourself. EVER. Let good be good and bad be bad. We are constantly bombarded by competition and images of others — sometimes filtered and brushed. Look at others that have resilience or are accomplished and see what you can learn, but don’t punish yourself for not being them. You are unique with your own experiences and qualities that others will look up to if you allow yourself to be your best. I share a story in my book about my son Tyler’s first year on the wrestling team. He’s an amputee from the cancer and wanted to wrestle on his high school team Freshman Year. One leg and no experience. I was a little terrified but told him he could do anything he set his mind to and I meant that. I watched him square off in his first match. He was in a singlet on the middle of the mat wearing no prosthesis and on one knee, looking up at his opponent. The whole gymnasium was full of spectators. I was nervous. Tyler did not win every match that season, but he won many. He placed 2nd in the state for JV that year, but I realized that even when he didn’t win, the accomplishment was how much he overcame to get there. He started every match from a knee. Sometimes we don’t get the promotion or the gold medal or the number we wanted on the scale, but we have to recognize our progress and the hurdles we’ve jumped to get to the end. We may not have won in the way that we wanted, but maybe we started from a knee.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. April Jones a speaker, author, and owner of The Drifted Drum. As a pharmaceutical Oncology Medical Director she holds an MBA and B.S. in Chemistry and PharmD. Along with her many professional credentials, it’s her personal journey that makes her an authority on transforming pain into purpose and struggles into strength. She is the author of No Mess, No Message: Finding Strength in Struggle and Purpose in Pain.
A mother of three boys, her oldest son is a cancer survivor, amputee and track and field Paralympic candidate. Through love, faith, hope, and inner discovery, Dr. Jones’s story helps others heal while finding comfort and courage during the most difficult times.
Dr. Jones and her family have been featured by Tennessee Uncharted, FOX News and DSUSA. They are the subjects for the upcoming docuseries, Living Out Loud. Dr. Jones is a frequent speaker on resilience and has appeared for groups like the Oncology Women’s Leadership Group and the Tennessee Oncology Pharmacy Association. Learn more about Dr. Jones and her family www.thedrifteddrum.com.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I was raised in a very small town in West TN. I was determined to grow up fast. I got engaged at 16, graduated high school early, worked to finish college as quickly as I could, and move on to the next steps, moving away, grad school, career, etc.
For the most part, things went as planned until April 2001. I was turning 20 and found out I was pregnant. Then after I developed pre-eclampsia, my son, Tyler, was born 7 weeks prematurely. I managed to finish college and get into pharmacy school, then in my second year in the doctorate program, my baby was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently endured an amputation of his right leg at the age of 2.
Since then, we have learned to embrace life. I completed my doctorate, went on to get my MBA, have held various roles in pharmacy administration and now am a medical director with Pfizer Oncology. We’ve been blessed by 2 more boys. I’ve been involved with several charitable organizations including a board position, and my latest endeavors include the publication of my book, No Mess No Message: Finding Strength in Struggle and Purpose in Pain and founding The Drifted Drum Company with Tyler, now 18, which we call the business of encouragement. Tyler designs his own custom apparel line, I offer the published content, I coach other authors, and we trademarked an event called The No Pity Party that brings the community together to uplift and connect people to resources and ways to get plugged in and give back.
My kids keep me young and busy! My youngest is a cub scout and soccer player. My middle little is an artist, a cook, and loves to rock climb and kayak with his big brother. And Tyler is a track and field international athlete, loves to do anything adventurous, and hopes to make the 2024 Paralympic climbing team.
I still make time to volunteer and invest in my spiritual growth. There are a few organizations close to my heart. Wesley’s Warriors Foundation, Josh Powell Foundation, Challenged Athletes Foundation, and Nashville Uprise are among the places you’ll find me these days when I’m not working or with my family. And I never miss a Pearl Society Breakthrough meeting- a women’s Christian worship gathering held once monthly in Nashville.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’d say it goes back to 2001. I was working as a Professional Oncology Education Intern working in Structural Biology at St. Jude for the summer. It was a huge honor. I thought that oncology research was going to be my life. I loved science and “figuring things out” and helping others. I am confident I was the only pregnant intern, and sometimes that smell of the agar made me want to vomit but I truly loved the entire experience despite that.
I remember my friend, Stephanie, who is now a pediatric oncologist, was an intern with me. One day, we were eating in the cafeteria. It was filled with families there for treatment and employees. I looked around and said to her, “No matter who you are, nobody seems safe from cancer. Infants, little kids, teens, every ethnicity, every religion, every country, it can happen to anybody.”
I had never been exposed to anything like this growing up. Even working as a phlebotomist at the local hospital during college, my world still seemed sheltered from this world of disease. From that moment though, everything I did had a new level of importance, even if my research was so early in the process of ever actually helping a patient. It was the moment that sparked my passion and compassion.
I had to distance myself from oncology early on in my career after Tyler was diagnosed because it hit so close to home, but it made me see my patients as people who needed my help regardless of the role that I played in their care. It gave me a desire to contribute to improving quality, efficiency and safety and every patient I counseled or cared for or just passed in the hall would get a warm smile from me even on my most stressful days.
On that day, of course, I had no idea only two short years later, I would be eating in this cafeteria with my son and my husband as one of those families whose world was turned upside down by childhood cancer. But I do believe it’s that experience, our own journey with cancer, that makes me strive to fill my days with efforts that are meaningful and it turned my sympathy into empathy. And as I say in my book, “Empathy is somehow more meaningful than sympathy.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I represent two companies. I am proud to work for Pfizer because they are a company with excitement and drive for finding cures for patients. The constant push for innovation to develop drugs to help unmet needs is refreshing to see and be a part of and they have committed to bring medication options to the healthcare community at a more affordable cost through the development of biosimilars. And I feel Pfizer values the talent in their teams and they care about us as individuals. They encourage work life balance. They recognize us for what drives our passion in our roles, and they support us giving back to the community.
The Drifted Drum Company has been a complete labor of love. My son Tyler and I started talking about the concept last year. I was in the process of writing my book and I was in the part of the process where you consider what you are offering. Was this going to be just a one book offering that I float out into the world and hope it helps others? Is this the first book of many? Will I be doing speaking engagements? This story is also Tyler’s story in many respects, does he want to be a part of this? How do I help my audience really feel supported? I didn’t want to just give people nuggets of hope and leave them. I wanted to somehow keep them engaged and encouraged in their newfound hope.
With discussion, it was obvious he had to be a part of the effort. He wanted to design apparel with images and bible verses that bring him peace. He wants people to know if they have life, they have a purpose and even if they feel they are different or have been through things that are difficult to get past, they can have hope and can use their circumstances to be an overcomer.
So, the Drifted Drum Company was born. Drifted meaning washed up in a place not intended to be the destination, moved there by external sources. And Drum meaning a vessel that can be emptied and filled up again and again. We feel like that describes us well and really anyone that has had major adversity. Even if you feel empty, you can still be refilled and you get to choose what that is. We want people to see that they can choose joy.
One of the things I love is watching Tyler’s growth through building the business, and I am most excited about the No Pity Party. I think my model of connecting people in the community that has dealt with pain and struggle to others and to resources helps them heal. The opportunity to use their adversity in a positive way is both divinely inspired and feels really good for everyone involved.
My book speaks to that as well. It is a raw, real rollercoaster of what it’s really like to deal with major hardship, and what I’ve learned has helped me build resilience. I hope that people touched by our message will share the book and the concepts they learn, are empowered to turn crisis into a platform to lift others. In a way, the ripple effect brings hope to more than I could ever touch on my own. I believe in the importance of helping “the one”. Each life is so important and has so much potential and each person can help another and another. It’s the crisis that gives us empathy and also the credibility so that maybe others will actually listen.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My husband. Even when we were young, he always believed I was capable of big things. He encouraged me to think big when goal planning, he supported me when I was in school. He encourages me and pushes me. When I decided I would write my book and start this business, I knew it would be a huge investment of personal time and money, and I already have a successful career, I expected some skepticism, but overall he has been supportive of every step. I shared a lot about our lives that most would probably prefer their wife not share. I have invested a lot in building this business and bringing this book to life. But he sees my passion and tells me I’m amazing and encourages me when I feel discouraged.
We recorded a docuseries this past summer, and Billy doesn’t usually talk about his feelings. He is a career police officer with a hard exterior. They asked about one of the hardest moments in our journey, and I shared about the day of Tyler’s amputation. Billy was in tears but couldn’t comment. It made me realize how impacted he is as well. So I’m glad that he still allows me to share openly even when it still impacts him.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
To me, resilience is taking the culmination of your circumstances and experiences and using them to move forward in a stronger and more purposeful way. If you can analyze your situation and know what about it you can and cannot control, you become the victor and not the victim. Things will happen to you that you did not plan, no matter how good of a planner you are, but you control your mindset.
There will be things you can do in your situation that will help you learn from it, learn about yourself, and allow yourself to feel. You can use that experience, even the hurt, in a positive way, use it in a way that you can help others. It changes your experiences from something that you had to get through or something bad that happened to you into a platform from which you are able to leap forward from.
Some traits of resilience include humility, gratitude, joy, compassion, and strength of character. Resilient people don’t feel bound by circumstances. They are adaptable.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
There are so many in my life. Tyler, my son, is at the forefront of my mind when I think resilience. I have seen him embrace life and have courage through difficult circumstances and physical pain. He always makes a decision to pivot when things don’t go his way. He is confident and has strong faith and hope. He is fiercely compassionate and loving.
Fabi Powell, founder of the Josh Powell Foundation, who lost her husband, commits herself to spreading the message of “Never Give Up” and “Live Life to the Fullest.” Angela Kemp, founder of Wesley’s Warriors Foundation, lost her son to Glioblastoma and helps other families financially while their kids undergo treatment for cancer. Tyler’s prosthetist, Ronnie Dickson, is an amputee himself and a world cup holder in adaptive climbing but he pours himself into ensuring his patients have no limitations because of their disability. He’s become Tyler’s climbing coach and friend.
There are too many to name, because when you start to live to help others, you often meet others that live to do the same. One of the things that inspires me to move forward and continue to build my own resilience is having these amazing people in my life that remind me of the importance of finding purpose in pain. It means that what we went through, the pain, was not for nothing. We can use it not only our good but to help others believe in themselves and that they also can find purpose in their pain.
We encourage each other, we celebrate together, sometimes we mourn together and cry together, but we make each other stronger. Some of these special relationships are synergistic. We may have bonded through the thread of past brokenness but we draw on each other’s strength and courage and belief in our ability to make a difference. When I’m planning efforts with Fabi or Angela, there is such a rush knowing that our efforts can change a life for the better! Even when book sales might not have been what I wanted that month or an event might not have been as well attended as hoped, it doesn’t discourage me, because there are still people who have been touched by my message, and each one of them individually is why this mission matters. My resilient friends remind me of that.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Most of my life-yes! Growing up I was never one of the popular crowd. I remember kids that made fun of me for wearing thrift store or hand-sewn clothes and “buddy tennis shoes” or for ears that were “too big”. I was kind of nerdy as a younger kid, good grades, and pretty shy. Even in my mind, I didn’t always dream big because I had no powerful or career driven women in my world to look up to. I think often kids are a victim of blinders that don’t allow them to see possibilities past their immediate environment. I think Billy’s confidence in me helped me believe in myself and think bigger.
When I got pregnant in college, my family worried that I wouldn’t finish, and many were surprised I would move a couple of hours away and go to grad school with a new baby. When Tyler got cancer, by that point, it didn’t even occur to me to quit or take a break. It wasn’t in my vocabulary. I just believed I should push on.
I had my second baby during my last year of pharmacy school, and when my third baby was just a few months old, I started the MBA program while also working full-time.
Many said and still say to me, ”I don’t see how you do it…all the things you do! or “Isn’t it enough to just have a fulfilling job and be mom? You don’t have to do all that.” But I don’t think I could be any other way.
We only get so long on this Earth. I want to do all that I can while I have a chance.
What if I can inspire someone else who thinks they don’t have the time or talent to follow their heart and fuel their passion? I believe we prioritize what we want. If we have that mindset, I have to do this to get that, then nothing is impossible. I hope that people will see that in my journey. Life’s too short to waste it. You have to go for what you want or believe is right.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Setbacks are part of life. If everything came easy, we wouldn’t learn or grow. My pregnancy in college, Tyler’s cancer, those are the obvious and most impactful ones, but I’ve had others in my life, of course. For example, a time I felt I didn’t get the promotion I deserved. I was already doing much of the job description, and someone else got the role, but I knew that aside from feeling it was unfair, I should only look for the positives in the situation. And because of that, I was still able to grow my skills and had this person completely support my ideas and decisions. Then I was open to better opportunities when they came along. Furthermore, the person who did get that job instead of me became one of my very dearest friends. We are still close even years later.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Growing up I was sheltered. The worst things in my life were when my parents got a divorce, when I felt I didn’t fit in, and when I didn’t place in the only beauty pageant I ever competed in (it was in the first grade). But then I won the Knowledge Bowl almost every year in grade school and first place in the county science fair in sixth grade and then decided I must just be smart instead of pretty. In high school, I tried something new, the cheerleading squad, but that wasn’t really me either. What I’ve learned that has helped me to build resilience is that we aren’t supposed to be perfect or to even fit behind a stereotypical title. There shouldn’t be a such thing as “the beauty queen” or “the jock” or “the smart girl” or “the loner”, it’s a façade and utter falsehood. It’s why our kids feel like they don’t measure up. It’s why it’s so hard to let ourselves just be who we are meant to be.
Part of my process of building my resilience has been self-acceptance. How can we deal with hard things and “be strong” when we aren’t even comfortable with who we are?
I can’t be happy all the time, even if overall I am a joyful and grateful person, and that’s ok. I can be smart and pretty even when I’m not a size 2 with perfect make-up. I can be strong and independent but have also learned it’s ok to cry and lean on God and others when I need to. That doesn’t make me weak. Despite being accomplished, it’s not ungrateful or discontent to still want to grow more and accomplish more. It’s actually a great quality and I continue to push myself. Being career-driven doesn’t make me a bad mom, and being a good mom doesn’t make me less ambitious. I don’t try to put myself in a box, and I try to learn from every person I am blessed to meet or work with. If you look closely, everyone around you has something beautiful about them that they might share if you are open to it and are completely accepting. If others see you shine, maybe they will learn something from you that will help them find the courage to let the “real them” shine.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Give grace: life is tough. Allow yourself (and others) grace to feel, to have moments of brokenness, and to be utterly imperfect. We can’t all put on a happy face all the time. It’s not normal. How do we treat a headache? We must acknowledge the pain first before we medicate. It’s the same with the other kinds of pain in our lives too. Just because you can’t take a pill that will make everything in your life right, recognizing that you have difficulty, will mean you can then take appropriate actions to empower you in your situation.
- Don’t Compare Yourself. EVER. Let good be good and bad be bad. We are constantly bombarded by competition and images of others — sometimes filtered and brushed. Look at others that have resilience or are accomplished and see what you can learn, but don’t punish yourself for not being them. You are unique with your own experiences and qualities that others will look up to if you allow yourself to be your best. I share a story in my book about my son Tyler’s first year on the wrestling team. He’s an amputee from the cancer and wanted to wrestle on his high school team Freshman Year. One leg and no experience. I was a little terrified but told him he could do anything he set his mind to and I meant that. I watched him square off in his first match. He was in a singlet on the middle of the mat wearing no prosthesis and on one knee, looking up at his opponent. The whole gymnasium was full of spectators. I was nervous. Tyler did not win every match that season, but he won many. He placed 2nd in the state for JV that year, but I realized that even when he didn’t win, the accomplishment was how much he overcame to get there. He started every match from a knee. Sometimes we don’t get the promotion or the gold medal or the number we wanted on the scale, but we have to recognize our progress and the hurdles we’ve jumped to get to the end. We may not have won in the way that we wanted, but maybe we started from a knee.
- Find the good in the bad: Ok, I get it. This one isn’t always easy. We’ve heard our whole lives to “look at the bright side.” But this is one of my most powerful tools in the box: the power of positive thinking. Positive thinking in envisioning a good outcome, yes, but positive thinking is also analyzing a situation lacking the desired outcome and figuring out what good you can get from it. There is a lesson learned, a new perspective, a change in direction, new connections. You may feel overwhelmed by the bad in a situation but you can usually find good exists in it, and if you can’t find the good, you can make good. Turn your pain into purpose. How can you use the negative situation you found yourself in and spin it into something good? My friend Travis Ricks is a cancer survivor/amputee and Director of Programs for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. His experience and willingness to acknowledge the importance of finding community and resources for those affected by disability has changed our lives. He welcomed us into the adaptive community. Bethany Hamilton, the surfer that lost her arm to a shark bite, hosts a surfing camp to youth with disabilities. John O’Leary, burn victim and author of On Fire, commits himself to a phenomenal podcast, Live Inspired, that truly inspires others through sharing stories of people dedicated to living to the fullest (I was so honored to be episode 198!). Examples are everywhere. I praise God in every situation, even the bad. When my focus is on God instead of solely on the circumstances, I have peace. I can think rationally, act intentionally instead of out of fear, and then I have faith that God will intercede on my behalf when I cannot see a way. Things don’t always go as planned, but he is my foundation and has never abandoned me or let me down and that’s where my peace lies.
- Recognize that You Are NOT Alone. You are not alone in experiencing adversity and you are not alone in feeling alone. Our natural tendency to silo ourselves when things are bad doesn’t help us heal. Realizing you are not the only one that has gone through similar difficulties, finding stories of inspiration from those who have survived, allowing yourself the freedom to breathe and lean when things are bad is so important. Hurting is part of the process, and then you must make a decision to heal. It’s easier to do that when you are connected. Allow people to help you, recognize Jesus never left you, and allow others to lean on you. I am forever bonded to those that have gone through similar circumstances. Tyler’s very closest friends are not those that go to school with him — they are the kids from around the country he’s met at Amputee Coalition of America Youth Camp and at the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation events. He said “They get me and they never judge me.” When you have a fight ahead of you, wouldn’t you rather face it with an army behind you?
- Don’t be afraid of change. Not only is change inevitable, change can help you. Change can be scary. Often times it comes with risk, but your environment can have a big impact on you. Sometimes we can be the positive change needed in our environment, but sometimes we need to know when to change the tune that’s playing in our ears. Being bombarded with negativity takes a lot of focus and energy away from growing, productivity, and doing good things. Everyday can feel like a battle when you are surrounded by a negative environment. I like to say, “When you feel like you can’t change the world, change the world around you.” Start with what you can do. When I felt like my team needed to lift each other up more instead of talking about things that went wrong that day, we implemented a brag box! When I felt like friends/family were speaking negativity into my life, I stopped calling. I started spending more time with friends that focused on joy and what they could do for others. When I feel frustrated in traffic, I listen to Lauren Daigle and podcasts that grow my faith. I learned to be a better listener, and I speak life and encouragement to those expressing defeat. Don’t be afraid of change when you do everything with passion, when you choose joy, and when you have faith. In the end, you will not be let down.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
“No mess, no message.” We all have a mess. Yours might look different than mine, but we shouldn’t be ashamed of them, because life is messy! Be bold to find your message in your mess. It is freeing, empowering, renews you, and can be the very place where you find your purpose and your passion. Recognize how your mess can become a way to connect and encourage others.
I want to bring the No Pity Party to every city. Part of my message is to share that we don’t need pity when we are dealing with an overwhelming situation. We need resources, comfort, and community. We need a helping hand, recognition of our value, to find hope and faith. I want people to see that there are stories of overcomers all around them to draw from and they can be that overcomer that can help someone else. I want people to see the value in their time and their effort. The smallest actions can have a lasting impact — a word of encouragement or a smile to someone who is hurting, a meal to someone who is exhausted in their circumstance, a prayer and a hug to someone who has lost faith in humanity. There is always something you can do. If you don’t have a dollar to give, spare a minute to offer an ear or helping hand. If you don’t have a minute, give a dollar or share a post or a smile or a hug.
What if we lifted each other up instead of ignoring each other or climbing over one another? This applies to our personal life and our professional life. We have to do something that’s not popular and not logical. We must determine that the cause is more important than the hustle and the moment is more important than the marathon. Helping someone who has fallen is the best reward. Only then everyone wins.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
I would be so honored to meet Oprah. She has been such a role model to girls and women everywhere, including me. She didn’t allow the hurt or humble beginnings hold her back, but rather it is part of a much bigger story. She never tries to fit into a mold. She is confident and authentic and gives so much of herself to other causes and in endeavors that shares others’ stories of inspiration. It reminds me that I might be from meager beginnings, a simple Southern girl, too, but I can dream big and be brave and I can inspire others by telling my story and being the best version of me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
On Instagram, I’m at @livebeautiful_dr.mom. Tyler is on Instagram at @tylergjonesy.
Our company page is @thedrifteddrumco.
On Facebook, you can find us at @dr.apriljones and @thedrifteddrum.
My business website is www.thedrifteddrum.com. You can sign up for my newsletter, order Drifted Drum merch, get my free companion journal digital download, and order a signed author copy of my book! I would love to hear stories of overcoming my readers!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!