Marcjana Turns has been one of my closest friends since college. She’s got a great sense of style, humor, and poise. Since college, we’ve reversed courses: She’s a Connecticut Yankee who’s adopted the south as her new home. I’m a native Southerner but have spent the last ten years above the Mason-Dixon Line. Our collective experiences make for a lot of great laughs.Caroline_small

Over the last two years, Marcjana and her nine-year-old daughter Caroline have shown themselves to be two of the strongest “steel” magnolias I’ve ever known. In summer 2007, Caroline was diagnosed with pancreatoblastoma, a rare form of juvenile cancer. After multiple rounds of chemotherapy, she received a multi-visceral organ transplant in June 2008 and was outfitted with a new stomach, pancreas, liver, large intestine and small intestine. This past weekend, she celebrated her one year anniversary with her new organs. Happy anniversary, Caroline!

She has since endured subsequent chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and surgery, but Caroline still finds many occasions to smile.

During a recent visit to New York, I shared with Caroline the challenges that many job seekers are currently facing. We talked about how hard it is to deal with bad news, and how it can be difficult to keep going at times. (One of her mother’s cardinal rules: Caroline can cry when she needs to, but no one else is allowed to cry in front of her.) I asked Caroline how she manages to keep smiling. Here are her three suggestions:

1. Keep doing what you are good at, and do it whenever you can. Caroline enjoys art—especially drawing and pottery—and has a life-long love of cooking. On a Make a Wish trip to Paris last year, she learned to cut vanilla beans and met Emeril. Now she paints pottery with Parisian scenes as a fundraiser for cancer research. When she feels very good, she makes pasta carbonara. When she feels okay, she mixes spices in olive oils and makes her own salad dressing.

2. Do other stuff to keep your mind off setbacks. Caroline never avoids taking her medicine or treatments, but she’s very good at diversions: she enjoys reading books, watching movies, and sneaking pink dye into cupcake batters. She spends a lot of time with her family and friends, and hates to be called a hero. "I'm a kid--not a woman of achievement," she told me after receiving a local award. "I'm just Caroline."

3. Focus on the Future. Caroline spends a lot of time at St. Jude’s Hospital, a children’s hospital specializing in pediatric oncology. The St. Jude’s community is an integral part of her life, but it isn’t her whole life. She has made a few friends who also have dealt with cancer, but she prefers to spend time with her friends at school, her cousins, and neighbors. When she’s feeling sick, she focuses on what she’ll do when she feels better. She’s now thinking about Italy and looking forward to going back to school full-time as a fourth grader in the fall.

Just as a sudden diagnosis sidelined Caroline as she prepared for second grade, a change in your employment status or industry can throw your career for a curve. Even if you have "best-in-class" skills and experience, the duration of your job search is often beyond your control. Focus only on your job search, you're likely to experience non-productive burnout and have less to talk about when you do interact with other people (an essential part of the process, given that an estimated 60-80% of job leads come about through networking). Borrow a few of Caroline's strategies and you'll have plenty to talk about.

If you find yourself feeling like a job search zombie, consider hiring a career coach or resume writer to help you through the process. Get unstuck so you can move forward. As B'rer Rabbit advises, "It ain't what you got...it's how you use it."