Leveraging Life’s Challenges

This is an old story for me, but I just thought it may be helpful for others feeling challenged during these times of isolation and uncertainty.

For most of my adult life cancer has been my stalking-horse. My brother was 16 when he succumbed to Ewings Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer that mostly afflicts young people. He was sick for about 18 months and his death devastated our family for years to come. 

It felt like I wouldn’t live very long so I tried to live large, before the big C takes me out. Sure enough, my time came at 39, when a doctor called me at the end of a long week in February to say I had joined the ranks of millions of women who had breast cancer.

My absolute worst nightmare just happened, so what’s next? I was going to die — now sooner than later. Uncertainty about my future was growing, about my health, my wellbeing, my company.

At the same time, while my company was successful, I was not all that happy at that point in my life. Frequently working 18-hour days and over the weekend — my life lacked balance. I felt truly alone.

So, I took this fear-ridden moment to self-evaluate and examine who I was, and if this was going to be it, what I really wanted out of life. I thought, if I’m going to lose everything, what is important to me?

I went into serious self-exploration. I tried to be brutally honest with myself about the good, the bad and the ugly. I changed my life on multiple levels as a result. I transformed my company. And, over several years, I made more changes.

Seven years later I had a reoccurrence and survived that as well. Cancer has found its way to me twice, and both times, I pivoted. I leveraged the cancer to change my life. I took the worst experience of my life and used it to become a better person, to enrich my life and to find true meaning in living. That is not to say that it was easy, or simple, or just one moment of revelation. No, it has been many years, with lots of ups and downs and everything in between. But, what I learned is that when the worst thing happens, the thing that you spent your whole life being afraid of, whether it be death or bankruptcy or just feeling alone and unloved, you have the opportunity to begin to find yourself.

All of us are feeling challenged today on so many levels, and each of us questioning who we are, what we do, what we need. It seems to me, the key is to consider how we can live in this new reality if we address our fears. When the worst things happen, a terrible sickness, the loss of financial stability, our home, our family, our friends, perhaps that opens a new way to live and we can find inside of ourselves a new beginning, a new moment for hope and a new reality. It will not be the same.

We will be changed by this pandemic. But, that change, if we allow it to, can become the fertilizer catalyst for our own personal growth. Since that first late February Friday afternoon call, my life has never been the same. And, I am glad.

I learned that I could live through the worst of my fears and come out on the other side feeling better, stronger and more open to what life had to offer. I found inspiration in letting go of all the expectations I had created for myself and my life and learning to accept that this might be it. That was a gift. And, it keeps on giving — 20 years later.