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Five lessons over five years

Even after years spent in the intensity of agency New Business, I’ve never experienced a sense of urgency quite like the one I felt when I was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer:


I started chemotherapy just two weeks after my diagnosis—twelve sessions of “kitchen sink” chemo, delivered every two weeks—and impatiently calculated the six months until I could return to normal life.

Then my timeline shifted: to accommodate white blood counts too low for chemo, then for a visit to the ER for colon perforation followed by eight days in the hospital, then for a trip to New York for a fifth (!) opinion, and finally as one resection surgery turned into two, and two turned into three.

It would be 16 months before I was declared NED (no evidence of disease), and when my doctor told me the cancer was gone, I desperately wanted to believe her.

But it wasn’t.

My cancer recurred two months later, just as we were all starting to watch news conferences about a new virus called COVID-19. The next almost three years followed with as many flip flops between clear and recurrence—aided and abetted by dozens more rounds of chemotherapy, 6 sessions of radiation, and an ablation.

Last week’s set of clear scans marked 15 months since my ablation. Fifteen months of NED-ness. I have my next set of scans scheduled for January 2024. If they are clear, the following day, they’ll remove the life-saving HAI pump that delivered chemotherapy directly to my liver.

It feels like I’m approaching the end of this chapter—and maybe thus it feels safe enough to admit that I’m grateful for the longer length of my journey.

Each passing year and each recurrence brought learning:

Year 1:  I learned about vulnerability and the magical connectivity that is enabled when you ask for help. On a whim, I asked supporters to send me their healing stars, opening me up to new and deeper relationships as I experienced a “miraculous” chemo response.

Year 2:  I started to understand the role ego played in trying to sustain working at the same pace and intensity—to the exclusion of almost everything else, including healing. Oops.

Year 3:  I learned the importance of mindset when my coach, Donna, encouraged me to consider whether my cancer journey was a prison or a school. I decided that “winning” my cancer journey was less about surviving and more about learning as much as I could, no matter what happened.

Year 4:  I started to think of my experience with fear as a superpower. I began to recognize how fear impacted not just me but other people. Eventually, I grew more attuned to how and why fear manifested professionally. This new understanding played a key role in guiding every new business pitch in which I was involved that year—and we won them all.

Year 5:  A lifelong “pleasing achiever,” I was finally able to embrace authenticity over approval. Years of not being physically able to do everything I thought I should do had revealed my true purpose; and when I suddenly found myself in a perfectly aligned role, I was able to look back at why it had taken so long for me to heal, not just physically but on every level.

Our lives are quieter today than they were: more peaceful, less fueled by adrenaline. Our household makes less money, but we feel more productive, and our lives feel richer and freer. We take better care of ourselves, and of others. We are healthy.

Five years ago, what I wanted more than anything was for my life to get back to normal.

Today, my life is almost unrecognizable from what it was—and I couldn’t be happier. What I didn’t know then (and what in retrospect seems obvious) is that important journeys don’t end in the same place they start—and thankfully, neither do you.

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