An Unexpected Champion

It was Blizzard Jonas…the Blizzard of the century. I got stuck on a business trip in Washington DC to launch a 3-year national project to improve women’s health locally. There were no flights back to Nashville for at least 4 days. Making lemonade out of lemons, my colleagues and I decided to walk to Walmart to get snow supplies that every southern girl needs to survive a blizzard: peanut butter (for protein); Benadryl (for sleep)…and wine, copius amounts of wine. While the tourists were buying snow gear to go sledding down the capital mall, I picked out a pair of comfy sky blue sweat pants and 3 bottles of my favorite red wine…yes, 3 bottles.

Standing in the check-out line with 40 people in front of me, I daydreamed about the beautiful embryo waiting for my husband and me in cold storage…yes, in one week we would be (hopefully- and fingers crossed) the parents of our own child…the child we prayed for and the child for which we had undergone egg harvesting 2 months prior to achieve…the perfect essence of both of us. As I check-out and rejoin my friends/colleagues, I daydream about our perfect child. I daydream so much that what should have been a 5-minute walk back from Walmart to our hotel, turns into a 30-minute journey in blinding snow. I look back on it now and maybe that walk was cosmic foreshadowing of the journey to come. Eventually making it back to my hotel room, wet and exhausted, I slip into a piping hot tub for a relaxing bath and crack open bottle number #1 of wine. I sink into the tub and rub my bare abdomen anticipating the sweet arrival of our precious dreams. We are so close…and on the other side is our dream…I just have to hold on!

I continue to dream…I can see my daughter’s face, smell her hair, hear her laugh, touch her tiny hands and feet…somehow my dreams are rudely interrupted when I feel it…wait, is that a lump? My mind says it is probably a cyst from all the hormones…my heart sinks a little…surely it is nothing, right?

Back in Nashville and 2 biopsies later, it is confirmed… stage II breast cancer, which meant chemotherapy. Just like that, everything I hoped for, dreamed for, planned for, suffered for disappeared in 3 simple but profoundly life-changing words…”You have cancer”. My husband and I came home and settled into this chapter of our lives…While embracing the great grief, the profound sense of loss, uncertainty of the future, a new reality sets in: I can’t go back to the time before I heard those 3 words…and I have no idea who I am. Act One ended with a loud bang that was the complete and absolute utter shift of my reality.

If I wasn’t paying attention, I would have missed it. Because unlike the end of Act One with its loud bang, Act Two began much more muted and reserved. There were many days since the end of treatment that I toggled between utter despair and jubilant hope. I often became sad when I thought about the moldering reality that Cancer was a part of my history. This day however, was much different. I went from thinking and saying: “I’m so fucking angry that Cancer is a part of my history…What about my future?” to boldly declaring, “I’m so glad that Cancer is a part of my history; Not my future!” And I LIVE like it…In my 2nd Act, I launched the Allen Wellness Group, a national collaborative for young women to receive the professional coaching support they need to launch their dreams, no matter what they may be.

I continued to champion the health and well-being of pregnant women and families locally and supported the launch of a novel coaching approach for pregnant and parenting teens to connect to post-secondary career and college opportunities. I realized how much joy I received from immersing myself beyond myself, by fully investing in the life of others. I listen more intently with my heart and ask how I might be of service to someone in need. And when my co-worker told me that she was diagnosed with breast cancer a year to the date after my diagnosis, I came fully into understanding that what I do is more important than what I say. She is watching me, looking to me to see how to live…and yes, I must thrive. I surround her; hold her, cry with her in the shared understanding of the journey we are on. And I remind her to boldly declare that cancer will soon be a part of her history…not her future! I hope that she and the many other women watching me will see me living my 2nd Act and be inspired to thrive in theirs.