When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and found out it was Stage 4, my first medical oncologist here at Sloan, Dr. Maria Theodoulou said the most unexpected thing in the moment. In the same breath that she told me I had incurable cancer she also said “you may not realize it now, but when you get to the other side of this, you might actually find that you’re happier in your life.” I believed her. And I’m here to tell you, she was right. I am happier then I have ever been.
A few things about me, I’m rowdy, I play hard, and I have always been a glass half full kinda human. I’m wildly optimistic and I have a pretty wicked sense of humor. If watching Netflix and binging on cheese pizza were an Olympic Sport, I’d sweep the event with perfect 10’s. So needless to say a cancer diagnosis could have and should have derailed me, but it didn’t. And I believe I know why. My team at Sloan Kettering.
My journey with cancer was messy. It was unexpected. At 34 I had no idea or reason to believe I was sick. One morning you wake up, you go to work, and then you get a phone call that tilts your world off it’s axis. You go to bed that a night a different person than you were when you woke up that morning.
I wasn’t diagnosed at Sloan. I was diagnosed at a very well respected hospital here in the city. In those initial days, I learned rather quickly that I would be better served elsewhere. I never needed to be coddled, but I needed to be heard. I needed empathy. I needed information. I needed humanity. When I got to the breast center on 66th I immediately felt the weight of my diagnosis shift off my shoulders and put into the sphere of this medical institution. I was entering the world of a cancer diagnosis and I never felt safer.
As you see from the Sloan didn’t just offer me sound medical attention. Yes, MSK is one of the top cancer centers in the world, but it doesn’t just heal the body. Sloan has helped heal my soul. Sloan has introduced me to a community of survivors and thrivers. Part of my personal healing has been through running. Running in central park with friends became a place for me to cry, heal, mourn, laugh and say all the things I was thinking and feeling. The good and the bad. I didn’t know that I would also be introduced to a community of runner’s through Sloan Kettering & Fred’s Team. I didn’t know that 17 months after finishing chemo I would run the New York City Marathon. I certainly didn’t know I would do it two years in a row.
My second marathon I ran with chemotherapy nurse Ashley Pildis and we ran to raise money for Fred’s Team. The entire race we hugged spectators and friends. We high fived everyone. We pet dogs along the route and whooped our hearts out to the people along the sideline and to the city that we call home. The entire race I was about 10 feet behind her. She was always in my sightline. We did it together. Her spirit as a runner kept me going, but it’s her spirit as a nurse that keeps me strong.
Because we like to torture our feet, this year, we recruited 16 people to run the marathon as a team, named SmashCancer. 3.0 We choose to fight and run for breast cancer. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want there to be a cure for ALL cancer. So far this year, my SmashCancer team is raising $100K for 2019. Fred’s team has been a bridge that has nurtured friendships. If central park knows my secrets, then Fred’s Team knows the song of my heart. Sloan has saved my life. Fred’s team has nourished it.
There are so many decisions about a cancer diagnosis that you have no say or choice over. You become a passenger in your own life. You now have a narrative in the story of your life that you didn’t make room for. So, when I say I’m happier in my life because of cancer, it’s because I have been able to see the world through a different prism. Today, more than yesterday, I know my strength a little bit better. I have let go of certain anxieties, and ultimately inherited a few others. While I have no control over the who, the why, and the how of my advanced cancer, I do have control over how I get up and face the world every morning. I have a blueprint. A sketch to how I need to manage my disease. I’m thankful for that map. I didn’t choose cancer. But I did choose Sloan Kettering. It was one of the best decisions of my life.