I have always been a positive person who sees the glass not just full, but overflowing. Little did I know how life would test me, a self-employed single woman, with no children or siblings. It all began on April 10th, 2008 when I heard those words no one wants to hear “You have breast cancer.” As you would assume, the news shook my foundation and brought my very busy life to a screeching halt. I saw my mom’s life and death flash before my eyes: she died of breast cancer when she was only 59. Sadness and fear took over my entire body. The world began to spin in slow motion.
Driving back home with my friend, after hearing from the doctor, I looked up to the sky…it was a bright and sunny day. The world had no clue what I had just learned. Everything seemed normal. I didn’t understand. I arrived home knowing that five girlfriends were on their way to see me. I walked my dog Merlot, trying to do something “normal”. As I thought about my life, I began to view it from a 30,000 ft level, way above my every day perspective. What I “saw” was that every past difficulty, my mom’s death, divorce, financial worries, every trial and tribulation, was now just a blip on the radar screen of my life. So, I could either let this moment swallow me whole and drag me into a dark abyss or I could make a very conscious decision to flip the switch and focus, as much as possible, on what was good (I was still breathing, after all), and avoid going into a self-pity destructive mode. What can I gain from this experience? Bigger breasts. That’s the first positive that popped into my mind. Spend more time with friends and family? I was sure that was about to happen. Learn more about myself and find deeper purpose to my life? Made sense. Help others through the lessons I would learn in the midst of healing? Hopefully.
By the time my girlfriends arrived four hours later, I had talked myself into choosing joy in the midst of turmoil. I had no control over the “end result”, but I did have power over how I would spend my days. No matter how many were left. I decided to turn my healing journey into a dance and celebration of life.
When they arrived, we popped open two bottles of champagne. My instinct to be of service, and my life in the media, compelled me to pick up my camera and start videotaping. They thought I was either nuts or in denial, but it just felt right. I didn’t stop recording for an entire year: through my double mastectomy, 17 sessions of chemo (which I call Sacred Juice) and several reconstruction surgeries. My friends and I videotaped and documented tips and advice to help, educate, encourage and empower others diagnosed with breast cancer. The personal diary entries were meant to take some fear of the unknown away for those facing treatments like mine. I had an overwhelming desire to be of service through my own dance with cancer. It actually gave me purpose and helped me heal. My longing to help, resulted in my Cancer Dancer documentary and my book The Cancer Dancer – Healing: One Step at a Time (in English, Spanish and Portuguese).
A year or so later, I was driven to create a global health and wellness community called Positively Pat. The response was so overwhelming from women with cancer from around the world, that I decided to form a support group within Positively Pat called The Link of Hope Sistas. We have more than 220 women today who have had a cancer diagnosis (not just breast anymore). It’s a virtual community of sorts (through a closed group on FB), where those of us who have been there, done that, help educate, empower and inspire, the newly diagnosed. It’s been a saving grace for so many beautiful women and friendships and bonds of love have been formed, from Newfoundland to Toronto and Peru, from California to Brazil and Florida.
Eight years later, I heard those three words again. This time, it was melanoma on my arm. I honestly, never gave it a second thought. I knew the drill and was blessed to move through that surgery with ease.
Throughout my two dances with cancer, I surrounded myself with happiness, joy, and with love — the love of my family and my friends. I kept away from anything or anyone that was negative or toxic. Even though I had moments of fear and worry, which are normal, I forced myself to move through them quickly, giving myself no option other than being positive and looking at this cancer as a unique gift that would change my life, hopefully, in a better way.
My mission continues to this day: to carry this care and compassion into the world to help each other heal and thrive through our words, our intent, our love, our commonality and our caring. And to encourage all, to flip that switch to the positive side, and find joy. Even in the midst of turmoil, I knew I needed to summon my inner one tough bitch. As I always say, “Joy is a choice.”
“You’re stronger than you even know, stronger than you might even think possible.”