A Few Lessons & Reflection on Survival


2020. The year that was supposed to be many things.
A field day for optometrists who needed a better marketing plan, an extension of the best year yet in the travel industry, the beginning of a new decade bringing hope and a new outlook for those who needed a new starting line, and a crazy busy year of work travel for me – enjoying the company of people I treasure while escorting groups, running events, and making magic full of surprise and delight for clients, friends, and team members.

The year had a lot of promise out of the gate.  We were making plans to celebrate 15 years of the company in true MEI style,  I executed a successful group for Disney’s marathon weekend, an amazing cruise group for WDW Radio out of New Orleans allowing me to get a taste of a city I had never visited before, and the opening of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway which was long-awaited and didn’t disappoint. I returned home March 6th just a few days after the first US cases of COVID reared their head at a facility approx. 20 minutes from my house. I was preparing to leave for Disneyland to facilitate a much-anticipated group event for our partners at Mousetalgia when I got the call that was the beginning of the crazy – Disneyland would be closing the next day and the event was canceled.

Now, I’m no stranger to a challenge. Over the years I have suffered great loss, heartache, personal and business betrayal, set backs, etc. – you know, all the feels.

But 2020 simply said, “Hold My Beer”.

Granted… This could be all my fault. Somewhere between the mimosa at Palo on the Disney Wonder and the Duck Duck Razz cocktail at the Boathouse in Disney Springs, (or was it the French Rose at Topolino’s?)  anyway —   I remember whining about how crazy my travel schedule was looking and how little I was going to be home in 2020. I believe I said out loud… how I wish I could be home a little more.

Sometimes you get what you wish for, and you immediately learn that wishes have consequences.  But then again, consequences also have lessons hidden in the corners and if you don’t dig around for them, you may miss them completely. Here are a few that are a cause for reflection in 2020.

Lessons in Business
I bought my first travel agency on September 19, 2001. Seriously. (I know right?!?) But I had a vision and thought I could persevere through the tough weeks and months after 9/11 to create the company of magic makers I had dreamed of and after a few challenges, a bit of betrayal from someone I thought had my back, and a lot of hard work and support from people around me… I did.  After living through the 9/11 challenges, I tried to calculate what I would need in terms of an emergency fund to make it through a similar trying time. 9/11 had great impacts on the travel industry, but it was about a month of lost revenue before the recovery began, so I thought 3 months of emergency working capital would be a good cushion to keep the doors open in an unforeseen circumstance.

Cue 2020 – “hold my beer”.

If you would have told me I would have to find a way to keep a business operational for nearly a year without a steady stream of income… I would have closed the door and found something else to do for a living. But here we are.  We are afloat.  Not quite Disney Dream of Symphony of the Seas afloat…  more like Rose…  on the door in Titanic afloat. But afloat, nonetheless.

Did I mention that if you need any help planning your vacation, the Vacation Advisors at MEI-Travel & Mouse Fan Travel are here to help!   Shameless plug I know…. But the lifeboat hasn’t come yet and Im still searching for the whistle, so every booking for 2021 and 2022 is VERY appreciated. No booking is too small to be of great help to our recovery…


If/when that pent up demand for travel comes back, I’m planning to significantly increase that emergency fund projection. Lesson learned.

Lessons on Loss and Recovering from Multiple Flavors of Drama

Of course, survival doesn’t mean as much unless you suffer some loss and a little drama along the way, and I have had my share there too.

For several years, my father-in-law fought a courageous battle with Lewy Body Dementia. It’s the same cruel disease that moved the late great Robin Williams to take his own life a few years ago.  (If you haven’t seen ‘Robin’s Wish’ take a moment).  In the midst of the pandemic, we decided to take a couple of days to break away from the same four walls we have been staring at…Nothing big. Just a hotel about 15 minutes away on the lake. On the second day, we got the call. My husband’s dad was being taken to the ER. We put Chris on a plane and a few days later his dad Bill passed away.  I am so glad we made the decision to have him travel so he could be with his mom during one of the most difficult rites of passage we will ever experience.

Sadly, 2020 also brought back the point, yet again, that people can pretend to be one thing to your face, and something quite different when your back is turned. With the amount of time I’ve spent on this earth and the number of times I have seen this happen to me and others, you’d think I would have already learned the skills required to steer clear of it.

But alas.

Just in the last couple of years, I have experienced this unfortunate phenomenon a couple of times and learned that people are quite capable of very hurtful, deceitful things and quite proficient at tending to their own agenda at the great expense of others. Knowing someone 15 hours, 15 months, or 15 years – doesn’t matter.  Some people are just who they are, and you need to turn that experience into a positive by accepting what you thought was there is no longer, and it’s likely for the best.

I have resolved myself to the fact that many times – No Good Deed Goes Unpunished  –  but personally, I try not to let these episodes change me. I prefer to believe that people are inherently good and care about others. It may be a flaw, but I trust until I have a reason not to.  Yes, clearly, I have been burned by people I have given much of myself and knowledge to but honestly, I sleep better at night. The alternative leaves you with big balls of negative energy and a fear of being you. Fearful you will be hurt, fearful you will be used, fearful you will be lied to and betrayed. But it will likely happen anyway.

The more important lesson to take away is times like this show you who the people are that will stand by your side and have your back till the end of the game.  I much prefer those wonderful souls who understand the overall big picture of true partnership, friendship, trust, and honesty vs. those who desperately desire their 15 minutes in a spotlight, even if it means stepping on others to get there.  If you allow yourself to open up and be vulnerable, you discover who you can lean on and trust. They are the ones who stretch out their hand and say “are you okay?”, “what can I do to help”, “let’s do a Zoom cocktail hour and vent’ and “If you need me I’ll be on the first plane…”

And boy did I need that… as I had no idea that I hadn’t even faced the biggest challenge that 2020 had in store for me.

Lessons on Survival

Early this summer I realized I was a bit overdue for the myriad of boxes you must check as you get older. I took some time one day to make all the appointments. Annual physical – check. Eye exam – check. Teeth cleaning – check.  Mammogram – check.  I was fully prepared for the available slots to be weeks later, but the gal said, due to Covid-19 people are putting off routine care and the calendar was wide open. I pretty much had everything I needed in the next week or so.

Score!  Get it done and get back to work dog paddling on that Titanic door!

Cue 2020 saying ‘Hold my Beer”.
(geeezzzz… how drunk was 2020 anyway??)

A few days after the appointments, I got that call no woman ever wants but I seem to get every time after a mammogram.  “Can you come back for another set of films on your mammogram? We just want to get another look.  “

Days later that turned into, “Can you come in for an ultrasound?”

Which turned into, “Can you come in for a biopsy?’.

That turned into the dreaded, “You have cancer.”

You never know how you will react when you hear those words. Your brain takes liberties as it imagines all the scenarios including wondering about how much longer you have on this earth to relearn all those pesky lessons.

But I’m one of the lucky ones.  My particular flavor of cancer is indeed aggressive, but it was caught extremely early. Two surgeries and an array of radiation doses later, and I’m happy to say I’m here to write about all the lessons I learned in 2020 and my prognosis is excellent. It was quite a relief ringing that bell at the end of the treatment.

I am now one of the eight.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.  That is mind-blowing to me, but I am a survivor now and I will carry the scars of the lumpectomy, and other surgeries, along with my first tattoo for radiation for the rest of my life. They will remind me not to take anything for granted.

Please don’t be upset that I didn’t tell you earlier. I only shared with people who needed to know and that was about the number I could count on one hand. My thinking was everyone has been through so much this year. People have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, their health, their sanity, and in some cases their loved ones. I just didn’t want to pile yet another worry on top of an already mountain of challenges.  I am also a bit private when it comes to these kinds of things.  When people hurt me, when I’m not feeling well, when difficult things happen in my life, I usually keep them to myself unless there is something in the story that may benefit or help someone else through a tough time.

And that’s one of the reasons why I write this today. In hopes, someone will take away a little nugget from this very personal post so they can avoid some of these crazy potholes life likes to open unexpectedly. Or just to know they arent alone in some of these happenings.

Lesson 1
Please don’t put off your routine health checks.  Even with Covid hanging over our heads, make that appointment. The facilities are doing a great job keeping everyone safe while conducting the needed tests. Early detection is key to how your treatment goes and your chances of survival for the long term. In my case, if I had waited another year, I may have had a much different outcome. I know it might be scary to possibly hear there is something wrong, but the earlier the better, and you can handle it. I have a friend who was diagnosed with colon cancer around the same time, and early detection was key for him too.  So, what did I do 10 days after my first surgery???  Yup! bring on the colonoscopy!  I was due and I figured, if there was more cancer to be found, Id rather know and treat it all at the same time. Happy to report, all was fine for both Chris and me and we don’t have another date with Suprep until 2025.   (side note – Suprep = MUCH better than the big jug of yuckiness…)

Lesson 2
No matter the loss, hurt, and betrayal you experience, take a deep breath, and continue to be you. Let yourself grieve the losses but don’t let these experiences change the person you want to be. Don’t let others’ negativity or actions define you. Only you have that power – don’t give it away.

Things happen for a reason and it’s better to identify the bad cells and get them the hell out of your life so they don’t do more damage to you or the people around you. And be sure to fully embrace the people who say things like “what can I do to help”, “are you okay?”  “do you need me to get on a plane, because I will get the next flight out” –  Looking back, the haters uncovered in 2020 never once said any of those things to me, so I’ll use that as a divining rod going forward.  But the ones who do reach out or express their love, care, concern, and dedication to you during times of need?  Those are the ones who will have your back and will unconditionally love and support you for the long haul. 2020 gave me tools and experiences to clearly identify who those people are, and I am eternally grateful to have them in my life.

Lesson 3
Stop telling yourself you can’t do, or face something. You can accomplish anything, meet any challenge, and survive.  In my case, it’s truly a matter of – What doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger. And while I would have preferred not to face any of these challenges this year, I am a better person, a better friend, and a better leader because of them.

(side note- A quick apology to those I missed sending Birthday messages, those waiting for things like email replies, etc.  I’m behind on the to-do list, I am planning on getting back on track soon…)

We are in the final hours of the most challenging year of my existence, and while I have no illusions that everything will be unicorns and rainbows when the clock strikes 12:00 tonight, I am looking forward to putting 2020 in the rear-view mirror and not look back, except to remember that we have been through a lot this year…

And we survived.

Bring on the new year because after, loss of a loved one, a shot of epic betrayal, hanging on to the business I love by my fingernails, and surviving betrayal and cancer all in one year,  there is nowhere to go but up.. right?

Beci Mahnken is Chief Magic Maker at MEI-Travel & Mouse Fan Travel. With more than 23 years in the travel biz, she is a frequent guest on many travel and Disney community podcasts including WDW Radio, and partners with other great travel creators like LaughingPlace.com, AllEars.net and RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com. She was recognized by Travel + Leisure magazine as the Super A-List Agent for Disney travel and serves on their Earmarked Advisory Board. Beci has long worked with the Disney fan community to help support fan efforts and create high-profile events and has a passion for supporting deserving charities with a special emphasis on animal welfare efforts. She has a love for exploring history, ocean cruising, and river cruising and served on advisory boards for the prestigious GTM event and TravelAge West Magazine. Beci's dedicated to her craft of sharing the magic of travel with anyone who will listen.

Discussion17 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. As a women has who tends to believe the best and trust until I’m shown I shouldn’t and has had her own mammogram and subsequent ultra sound calls I truly appreciate you sharing your story.

    I echo your lessons – we are strong enough to face all the things while staying true to ourselves.

    Wishing you an abundance of joy, health and family in 2021.

  2. Sending all my love, thoughts and prayers! I do believe in karma so maybe the people that hurt you will get theirs. I look forward to 2021 and the break in the clouds that hopefully will bring everyone joy.

    • beci

      🙂 I also believe in karma and while I don’t wish ill on anyone, I do hope they learn that there are consequences to lying and using people. Maybe they will have it happen to them so they don’t hurt others in the future.

  3. Aaron J Westendorp

    Beci, you are one heck of a woman. 2020 threw a lot of curveballs but you managed to stay afloat! Good for you!

  4. Joshua Shaver-Moskowitz

    Beci, that was quite an inspiring reflection on your year. We should all take these life lessons to heart. I’m so happy and honored to know you. We are sending you lots of love and health in this new year and the many beyond. And gosh I can’t wait to give you a big hug!

    • beci

      Josh, when I see you, you are getting an uncomfortably long, awkward hug! I am blessed that you guys came into my life too and I cant wait to catch up.

  5. Hi Bec, We’ve been through a lot together, and traveled a lot of the same paths. I wish I could have been more of a support to you this year but through it all you have been the one who has been an incredibly major support for me. I don’t think I will ever be able to let you know how much I admire and love you but at this beginning of 2021 I am praying that we can be together for some wonderful MEI experiences in the months and years ahead. Love ya …. sm

    • beci

      2020 was a challenge for both us for sure. You had a lot on your plate, but please know I knew you were always in my corner. Chris and I are here for you, anytime,e you need us. Love ya!

  6. Thank you for sharing.
    Thank you for sharing your triumphs, your struggles, your defeats, your victories.
    Thank you for sharing your long and winding road—both with “Us” and with ‘us’.
    Thank you for inspiring others so that more can enjoy life, some magic along the way, and the love of family and friends both near and far.
    Looking forward to when our roads cross again in person. Sending love to you and Chris.
    Thank you.

    • beci

      Colin, thank you so much for your very kind words. Its been way too long since we have seen each other, and we will surely have a lot to talk about when we finally do. Thank YOU for being you… hugs and I hope to see you soon.

  7. Dear Beci, it was wonderful to read your account of being diagnosed in the midst of this COVID year. Your courage and strength are an inspiration! I am a breast cancer survivor – almost 23 years now – but still remember the moment when I heard the doctor tell me ‘I think I feel something there.’ The world stops.

    Thank you for being brave enough to share this, and for encouraging all of us not to neglect our routine health appointments. Be assured of our prayers. Keep being strong. XOXO

    • beci

      Thank you for your kind words Mary, and congrats on 23 cancer-free years. It’s a club I never asked to join, but find I am surrounded by strong amazing women. Hope we all have a happy 2021!

  8. Beci, thank you for sharing your very challenging year with us. I survived testicular cancer in 1984 and will be celebrating 37 years cancer free this March.
    We have me several times at the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet and I have been a customer of Mouse Fan Travel since 2010. You are one of the women I want my daughter to emulate. You are strong. You are smart. You are kind. You are funny. You are wonderful. Being a Kamiakin Brave is the only flaw I can find or think of.
    Thank you for being so wonderful.

    • beci

      Kevin, you just gave me the highest compliment I could ever ask for. Thank you so much and congrats on 37 years!

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