I have told my story about a thousand times. I was 45, and my father had just died of cancer. I had a significant career, was a strong athlete, and was very involved in my community. It was a Tuesday, my dad’s birthday, when I learned I had stage one, ER negative breast cancer. I was too stunned by my father’s death and too busy to get overly worked up. I selected a surgeon, set a date and got on with it.
Friday that week, I attended a breast cancer fundraising event. The MC asked breast cancer survivors to stand up. It was my first realization my identity had changed. It felt very strange. It was at the same event that Laura Evans, founder of Expedition Inspiration, announced she intended to lead a team of breast cancer survivors up the highest peak in South America to raised awareness about breast cancer. My diagnosis took on a new perspective; I qualified to apply for the climb—a silver lining to the dark cloud of cancer. A year later, I had taken a month’s leave from work and was at the trailhead for the trek to base camp on Mt. Aconcagua. It was a year to the day since I had completed treatment.
In retrospect, this was a watershed. I was doing what I wanted to do, not what was expected. Co-workers were stunned – a month off to climb a mountain? What about due dates, goals, supervision, crisis that might (would) arise in my absence? My husband was feeling proud, “left behind” and uncertain, but he was always supportive. I felt alive and challenged. I was a part of a team doing something very important for ourselves and also for all people diagnosed with this disease. At that time, breast cancer was not on the national radar screen, research was not well funded, and women diagnosed with breast cancer walked the path of treatment and recovery relatively alone.
The public was enormously impacted by the climb. A documentary of the climb aired on PBS, and TV, radio, magazines and newspapers covered it. The team was invited to the White House. It had big impact on me as well. I gave a year’s notice to resign my career position.
Each time I think about my experience with breast cancer I regard it with a new perspective. It was a difficult year in my life that forced me to overcome fear, open new doors and directions and change my identity: all true, all important, all profound. A second round of breast cancer cemented the reality of the disease in my life. I redoubled my commitment to supporting breast cancer research. I redoubled my commitment to living life to the fullest and in the present.
Since that time I have served continuously in some volunteer capacity related to the fight against breast cancer. I have traveled, climbed mountains, run marathons, and worked in a variety of jobs with great people who are doing interesting things.
At 64, I own a ranch, raise goats and chickens, make cheese, and serve on three nonprofit boards. I wake up each morning grateful for my life and the day ahead. Where might I be today, what might I be doing, how did breast cancer change the course of my life? It is hard to say but I know it has helped me become the person I am today.