Life changes: A health scare and an old hobby lead to a new start

Anna Weggel
Public Insight Network
Vicky Hay

When a doctor told Vicky Hay she might only have a few months left to live, she saw her life in a new perspective. (Photo shared by Vicky Hay)

Editor’s Note:  We’ve asked a lot of questions in 2012. And you’ve shared a lot of stories with us. So many of them are about change — of one sort or another. So we are marking the changing of the year with stories of people actively making changes in their lives in order to improve their physical, emotional or communal health.

This is one of those stories: about Vicky Hay of Phoenix. Read the others here.

Last spring, a doctor told Vicky Hay that she had symptoms consistent with gastric cancer — a condition that could leave her with only months to live.

As she drove home from that appointment, she thought about the job she’d just been laid off from at Arizona State University — it had been a catastrophic blow, she said.

“At 64, I was well past the age when anyone was likely to hire me for truly gainful work,” Hay said. “I couldn’t get a full-time job anywhere, and believe me, I tried: I couldn’t even get hired to drive the tourist train at the zoo!”

One of Vicky Hay's beaded lariats.

Vicky Hay started stringing beads earlier this year, and found it at least as profitable as her previous full-time job. (Photo shared by Vicky Hay)

She found short-term teaching work at a community college that she said barely paid minimum wage. Though she loved her students, she truly hated the job. “It occurred to me, as I made my way homeward through the homicidal Phoenix traffic, that I had been making myself miserable so that I could preserve retirement savings to support me during an old age, when I expect to be miserable,” she said.

So she quit.

Now, in addition to the new copy editing business that she and a former colleague are cooking up, Hay has discovered that she can earn a good living through one of her hobbies — stringing beads into jewelry.

Hay learned to make beaded lariats — which look like long, looped necklaces — by getting back into an old hobby of hers, and observing a local artist’s work.

The pieces she makes don’t come cheap — they sell for about a hundred dollars a pop — and under ideal conditions, Hay says that works out to about $30 per hour of work. ”I can sell beaded necklaces at a rate that pays me exactly what Arizona State University paid me at the height of my earning capacity,” she said.

And it turns out the health problems that prompted her change of direction probably aren’t as bad as she feared. Her condition cleared up after a different doctor treated her for gastroesophageal reflux disease. The symptoms haven’t returned, a good sign she doesn’t have cancer.

“It doesn’t look like I’m going to die after all; not soon, at any rate,” Hay said. “This will give me some time to have a life.”

>> Vicky Hay’s is one in a series of stories about people who’ve made changes to their lives in 2012. If you’d like to share your story of change, click here.


Anna Weggel Analyst
Public Insight Network

Anna Weggel is a Public Insight Analyst, which means she spends her time crafting questions about upcoming story topics to send to sources in the Public Insight Network and then produces web, audio and video content featuring those sources.

Before finding her home at APM in 2008, Anna received her B.A. in journalism, was the editor in chief of The Minnesota Daily, and internship hopped through Mother Jones, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Pioneer Press, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, and the Downtown Journal. Anna's non-work life is held hostage by the stage -- where she performs improv comedy and shows with her lady bluegrass band.