We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Melissa Fleming. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Melissa below.
Melissa, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Is there a heartwarming story from your career that you look back on?
I grew up in Houston and graduated from the University of Texas. I started my career in banking and financial planning in Austin helping clients informed financial decisions. Twelve years later, my banking business partner to coworker, Kelly Conway and I decided to go into business for us opening the Fleming & Conway Allstate agency in 2010 with eventually two locations in Austin and Round Rock. I grew up watching my grandparents run their own business and knew ultimately that I wanted to do the same.
I was accomplishing everything I planned; owned my own business, happily married, a beautiful daughter and son, had a cat and dog. Six years later, my world was complete turned upside down. Our son, Brock, was walking our dog with his Big Sister, Jenna and his Daddy, James, on May 4, 2016 when he tripped, fell, and hit his forehead. He had amnesia and a large goose egg, so we rushed him to the ER. They did a CT scan and told us he didn’t have bleeding on the brain and only a severe concussion. By the next morning, he had partial facial paralysis and was walking on his tippy toes. After taking him to the pediatrician that morning, she instructed us go to Dell Children’s ER and request a MRI. After seeing his crooked smile, they rushed Brock back for tests. It was then that we were told he had a brain tumor and five days later, a biopsy confirmed it was DIPG. Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma is the most aggressive, resistant to treatment cancer, inoperable, and primarily affects kids ages 5-7. The Doctor then gave us the “I’m Sorry Speech.” “I’m sorry that your child has brain cancer. I am sorry there is no cure. Brock can get radiation for 6 weeks that may temporarily stop the tumor, but he has only 9 months to live. Take him home and create memories.” Overnight, Brock was not able to walk, drink, or talk. He was determined to get back to running and playing soccer again and did after 6 weeks. He fought courageously for 7 months and did not want to leave his family on December 10, 2016.
Going through something like this, you have to make a decision about your “second” life. Some parents try to remove themselves from anything to do with DIPG, which would be easier some days. Some parents raise money to financially help other families during their battle. Cancer causes a huge constraint on families. During Brock’s battle, he didn’t understand why his body was doing this to him, why he was the only second grader with cancer in his head, and why the Doctors couldn’t fix him. He wanted to “be better” and “Kick Cancer in the Nuts!” We decided the best thing we could do is change prognosis for other kids, so no family gets the I’m Sorry speech. We were fortunate to have friends help us with fundraising events during Brock’s battle who also wanted to continue to help. Together, we formed the Austin/Round Rock Chapter of The Cure Starts Now to fund pediatric brain cancer research to find the Homerun Cure in honor of Brock. Two families have joined us since in honor of their children, Katelyn and Alexis.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
With Team Brock, we hold events throughout the year to include a golf tournament, royal tea party, fun run, Blessed by Brock, and other third-party events. We have three primary goals. First is to create awareness that our kids get brain cancer and is the #1 cause of cancer related deaths in our kids. All childhood cancers are considered rare because less than 250,000 kids a year get each type of cancer. Sadly because of this, the government funds less than 4% of all cancer research for our kids’ and less than 1% for pediatric brain cancer. Things are starting to change where pharmaceutical companies are testing drugs for pediatric cancer in conjunction with testing for adults. The government is beginning to recognize curing cancer for the most aggressive, resistant to treatment will help cure all cancers. But we have a long way to go.
Second is to fund pediatric brain cancer research and provide support for pediatric brain cancer families. We chose The Cure Starts Now because 97% of all funds raised fund research and trials. Researchers must try something new, be able to complete grant with money provided, report results, and share information with other doctors. Each year, grant requests are submitted, reviewed by a Medical Advisory Board, and then voted on by the Chapters, the families. We can see where the money is going and the results. The Cure Starts Now has two family support liaisons to help families navigate trials, get second opinions, and provide emotional support. We have had amazing support from the community when often people move on with their lives. Because of them, our Chapter has been able to raise over $1,550,000 in the past five years to fund research!
Third is to help empower Brock’s friends and other kids in the community. We include the kids in our shirt designs and get their help volunteering at the events. Often, the kids are leading the activities. Brocks friends don’t understand what happened any more than I do. I want them to see when something bad happens, you must choose how to react. I want them to see you get back up, keep fighting, and help create change!
Cancer affects the entire family, their friends, and the community. It has been important to me to highlight local cancer kids in the community. I don’t want them viewed as a statistic. Cancer is something they got, but they are so much more. For kids that are battling or have survived cancer, I want them to feel recognized and loved. For kids no longer with us, I want them always remembered. For siblings who are often overlooked, I want them thanked for the amazing support they have given. I want to create support among cancer families because parents need other parents that understand their battle. No one wants to feel alone or in a black hole.
I am happiest when I see other kids smiling. I love meeting other cancer kids and giving them a “Kick Cancer in the Nuts’ trophy. I love seeing Brock’s friends empowered by making silent auction items or create games for Fun Run. I love seeing the kids play at our Fun Run on the rock wall, bouncy house, and petting zoo. I want our kids to be kids and not have to worry about solving adult issues.
Can you talk to us about your experience with selling businesses?
After Brock battled cancer, perspectives change. I continued to run the Allstate agency for five years but over time realized my passions had also changed. I wanted to be able to take a step back from managing employees, solving administrative problems, and focusing on revenues/goals. Instead, I wanted to be a Mom first, focus on fundraising second, and then explore other options to help others. Although I was ready to sell my agency, my business partner was not and bought my half of the agency. The things I learned are to have strong professionals to guide your through the process. I first met with our financial planner to see how selling the agency would affect our family financially long term. We hired a business attorney and CPA who were comfortable working together to make sure we sold the agency in the most tax efficient way protecting both sides. Emotions can be challenging when ones want to get paid as much as possible and the other wants to pay as least as possible. Having professionals to discuss the issues as they arose kept the sale on track. For this reason, we were able to remain close friends. Ironically after taking a few months off, I joined the financial planning firm to help others accomplish their financial and retirement goals. We worked together for ten years prior to opening the agency, and it was a great fit to rejoin their team. I know first had the freedom and confidence a financial plan can give.
How’d you build such a strong reputation within your market?
Early on in my career, I was given the advice to get involved in the community that I live and work. I decided to pick a charity that I would be able to do with my kids. Although the charities changed over 20 years, I found with volunteering you form strong friendships. People want to do business with who they know, like, and trust. Spending hours at an event or serving on planning committees, they are able to see your personality, how you treat others, and follow through on your commitments,
I could never have anticipated my son would get brain cancer. When we were at our lowest, my friends from the nonprofits I volunteered, and the community showed up in support. Now, I am able to give back and help the same community which is very rewarding. Make sure where you choose to help a cause you are passionate about and an organization you respect as you will be connected to like-minded people.
- Website: https://thecurestartsnow.org/get-involved/chapters/texas-austinround-rock/
- Facebook: facebook.com/teambrockfleming
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-fleming-cfp%C2%AE-14a25b4/
- Other: https://ironbridge360.com/
Katie Starr Photography