• Marika Meeks

    Survivor


    In 2013, I was a busy wife, mother, and entrepreneur when, at the age of 41 and with no family history, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. My whole world was turned upside-down in an instant, and life as I knew it would never be the same again. Treatment, including nontraditional treatment, a lumpectomy, radiation, and a mastectomy, was a grueling, two-year ordeal, and there were moments when I was certain I was going to die. At the end of my treatment, I was truly blessed to be told my body now showed no evidence of cancer. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to get back to living my wonderful, fulfilling life again—so many things I longed to do, places to go, people to meet, adventures to undertake, all the things I could only dream about doing during those endless weeks and months when I had been too ill, scared, exhausted, and in pain to even try to picture a world beyond my bedroom. And then…something strange and unexpected happened. I was home; I was healthy. My husband and two teenage daughters showered me with love, patience, and support. And yet, I felt utterly and completely stuck, with no energy, desire, or motivation to do anything at all. I couldn’t wait to get back to normal life, but now that I was there, I had no idea what “normal life” even looked like anymore. Compounding my fatigue, sorrow, and listlessness were intense feelings of guilt and shame because I wasn’t enjoying every moment of my post-cancer life. In my head, I knew how fortunate I was to have survived my cancer diagnosis when so many people don’t, and what a blessing it was to have been given this “second chance” when I was only in my mid-forties, with possibly decades still ahead of me. But in my heart, I just didn’t feel it. Worse, I didn’t seem to “feel” anything other than empty, lost, and alone. The more I struggled, the less comfortable I was sharing what I was feeling, and consequently, the more isolated I became. “What am I doing with my life?” I kept asking myself. “I fought so hard for this second chance; am I going to just throw it away on nothing, or am I actually going to accomplish something significant? What was the point of surviving a deadly disease if I’m merely going through the motions and not really living my life with meaning, passion, and intention anymore?” And then something happened that turned everything around: I met a little mixed-breed dog named Sweetie Pie. When I went to test-ride a mountain bike I found on Craigslist, the family who were selling the bike ushered me into their home, and immediately this little dog came out of nowhere and ran right up to me. I knelt down and she put her little front legs around me as if she were trying to hug me, then pressed her head against my chest, becoming completely still. Suddenly, in that moment, I felt a shift in energy and a warmth that pierced my heart and penetrated deep into my soul. I had never been a “dog person,” but now it seemed like the universe was telling me to adopt a dog. At first, I was confused, but there was no doubt, Sweetie Pie had awoken something deep inside me. “Could a dog be what I need to nudge me out of my post-cancer funk?” I wondered. I began researching dogs online, and even had a few near-misses with dogs that didn’t quite work out for me and my family. And then came Stella, a beautiful little seven-month-old caramel-and-white pit bull puppy. It was love at first sight, and from the moment I laid eyes on Stella, February 13, 2016, I knew she was meant to be mine. The change in me was almost instantaneous. I went from being totally self-absorbed, shipwrecked in a post-cancer sea of fear, worry, anxiety, and guilt, to having a bright new focus with Stella. Suddenly, my family and I were taking her out for walks and attending obedience classes, laughing at her goofy puppy antics, cherishing her sweet snuggles. I was meeting new people, and going way out of my comfort zone. And I loved every minute of it! Stella gave me that sense of purpose I’d been missing ever since my cancer diagnosis. Stella had such a profound impact on me and my family that I decided to dedicate my second chance at life to helping dogs in need get a second chance too, by advocating for pit bull breed awareness, supporting rescue and adoption shelters, promoting spay and neuter initiatives, and rescuing and fostering puppies and adult dogs until a “forever family” can be found. Today, approximately 75,000 people around the world follow Stella and our dog rescue adventures on social media and on our website, www.incredibullstella.com. I’ve even written a book about Stella’s story and her impact on our family—Incredibull Stella: How the Love of a Pit Bull Rescued a Family, published by Kensington in August 2019. The truth is, I’ve never been busier, and I’ve never been happier. Thanks to Stella and my amazing family, my life post-cancer is even better than it was before my diagnosis, and I am committed to making the most of this precious second chance. Back to Breast Cancer Stories