Erin and Brent Weidemann don’t need Thanksgiving to remind them to be thankful.
They live in a “posture of gratitude,” Brent, 36, said, a few days before the holiday in his father’s State College home. The couple now lives in San Diego with daughter Rooney.
“We have a continual awareness of all of our blessings. At all times. Every day,” said Erin, a former Penn State softball player and 2003 grad with degrees in broadcast journalism and Spanish.
Erin, 37, is a five-time cancer survivor. She was first diagnosed in April 2007. She was working in finance in her native California. She had been a healthy athlete and had no symptoms.
The words no one wants to hear
She’d felt a lump in her neck during her time in Happy Valley and had it checked by a doctor, but it didn’t alarm anybody at that time. So it wasn’t until she went for a routine checkup at the request of her mom years later that her doctor told her he thought she had cancer, before even doing a test or scan.
She was “floored” and “shocked.”
“It was really scary,” Erin said.
Erin said she went from feeling like a healthy 20-something at the beginning of a career to being hit with the reality of mortality.
She had two surgeries within two weeks of each other — one to diagnose it as thyroid cancer and the other to remove it.
Because the surgery was so extensive, she basically lost the use of the top half of her body and had to do physical therapy. She started treatment. She did radiation and was quarantined. And that got rid of the cancer, but it came back about nine or 10 months later, Erin said.
And on the cycle went like that — they’d get rid of it, it’d come back and she’d do the “whole gamut” of treatment again. Five times.
“The cancer kind of righted me down a different path,” Erin said.
Erin had two things she wanted to do in whatever time she had left.
“I thought, ‘OK, well I’m going to leave the financial world, and I’m going to operate in what I feel like I want to do to create a lasting impact with my life.’ So I became a teacher because I thought, ‘If I don’t have a lot of time, I want to spend time with kids and pouring into the next generation,’” she said. “... The second thing I wanted to do was to volunteer my time in the community. And I thought the best way to do that, the way I could get plugged in to a good network, a positive network that was reflective of my time as a young person, would be to plug into the (Penn State) Alumni Association.”
In the midst of all that, she met her future husband, Brent, a 2007 Penn State grad with a degree in history, at an alumni football viewing event in Orange County. Brent drove to Orange County from San Diego to watch Nittany Lion football games with other Penn Staters.
At first, Erin tried to pump the brakes on their relationship. After all, she was right in the middle of treatment, going to doctors’ appointments, scheduling surgeries. But Brent wanted to be there for that. They married in 2010. Instead of going on a honeymoon right away, they traveled to Rochester, Minnesota, for Erin to have surgery at the Mayo Clinic.
“That period of early marriage for us was really more about dealing with a tragic, chronic issue, but also growing together in the process. I think it really prepared us for even the work we’re doing now, in not just raising a family but working together and starting a company and being co-entrepreneurs and fueling an initiative that we both feel so passionate about isn’t separated from hardship. So I think that time really prepared us to tackle challenges and to do things that are hard to do,” Erin said.
The couple launched their company, Bible Belles, when Erin was eight months pregnant. Daughter Rooney, for whom their book series is named, is now 4.
Running a business is extremely hard and emotionally trying, Brent said. But compared to death and cancer, “it kind of takes its place where it’s laughable.”
Erin has been cancer-free since 2012.
Adventures of a children’s book author, motivational speaker
“The Adventures of Rooney Cruz” series, which Erin wrote, features five women from the Bible.
The business, Erin said, was born out of the struggle that every girl faces in terms of her own identity and insecurities and the pressure of comparison she faces when she looks out into the world. Erin and Brent wanted to do something about that.
“Complaining by creating,” Brent said.
They wanted to point girls toward Scripture and help them access the women’s stories because most of the stories children are taught in church are about men.
“Women played a powerful part in the story, in the eternal narrative, and so we wanted girls to be able to connect with those women in a way that was meaningful,” Erin said.
Everything their company creates, from books to devotionals to the Heroes For Her podcast to trainings, are all to the same end.
“It’s all about helping nurture and strengthen a girl’s unique voice because that’s ultimately what we want to do,” Erin said. “We want to increase confidence and strengthen her identity and help her assert herself and her passions and her gifts out in the world to make a difference, to make a positive impact on the world.”
The business keeps them pretty busy — Brent said looking at it from the outside, they work from when they wake up to when they go to bed. But he said they have a lot of times for rest.
With Erin’s speaking engagements and various other opportunities, they travel around the country a lot. Brent said they’re traveling between two and five times per month.
But they’re able to take work trips, like the one they’re on in Pennsylvania — Erin did a TV interview in Pittsburgh earlier this week and is speaking at a local church on Sunday — and turn it into a family vacation.
And sometimes when they’re caught up in work, their gratitude is a little less, but other times it’s “massive.”
“We shouldn’t have a child. We shouldn’t be married. ... We’re very aware of how blessed we are, and we have an unbelievable, beautiful baby girl that is a constant reminder of that,” Brent said.