I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 37. One day I was living my life. Three weeks later I was sitting in a hospital minus my left breast wondering what had hit me, and afraid I was going to die. I remember the pain and fear of not knowing what was going to happen. The tediousness of chemo, keeping my “I’m fine” face on and my wig straight in 90 degree heat and 90% humidity. I was feeling guilty about not being superwoman during a time when I often could barely get out of bed. My focus was on reaching that magic time when somehow this cancer stuff would end and my life could go back to normal. Finally, my treatment did end. Everyone was so happy for me! They were so thrilled that I was “done” with cancer. Well, guess what? I was bald, weighed 95 pounds, and half of my chest was missing. I had scars all over my body and facing the thought that I could die soon had changed me so much that I didn’t know what normal was anymore.
The truth was I wasn’t thrilled to have my old life back. It had probably contributed to making me sick. I decided to take a low paying, mid-level job instead of going back to my executive position. I started gardening and walking the dog. Pretty soon my husband was looking at me and asking me “Who are you and what have you done with Paula?” I kept thinking, “there’s got to be more.” After cancer, it really hit home that bigger houses, impressive titles, or physical perfection (to name a few) don’t take care of you when you’re sick, love you when you’re wrong, or provide inner peace or appreciation for what you do or who you are.
The Paula who was diagnosed is not the same Paula who is writing this story. Cancer stripped me of my willingness to conform and replaced it with an unquenchable desire for aliveness, passion, and purpose in my life. I’ve been inspired by cancer to create a new life of passion and joy, of giving back, and helping others. I’m not willing to wait for happiness. I’m willing to do what it takes to have it now. Now I’m doing the work I was meant to do and loving every minute of it. I’m a professional life coach, working with cancer patients and survivors. My first book has just been published. I am married to the love of my life. My connection with my higher power keeps growing. My life is more balanced between work, love, giving back and having fun than ever before.
I believe that cancer is a wake-up call, a reminder that living is about being our own unique selves, and actively working to make the world a better place, one small or large step at a time. My mantra has become, “why wait and why worry?” My courage is based on the absolute conviction that if I can do cancer, I can do anything. My new-found way of showing up in the world is based on compassion for myself and others, with excitement and curiosity about what we can do together, rather than alone. Dealing with cancer and all of the changes it forced on me inspired me to contribute the world instead of standing on the sidelines. It wasn’t easy. It was definitely worth it. As I finish writing this story, I’m singing out loud to one of my favorite songs. The line that resonates in my heart says “I can be myself now finally, in fact there’s nothing I can’t be.” I wish this for each and every one of you.
Read other survivor stories