My parents were in their first year of retirement—my mom, a former teacher who would go on to joke she’d take her unruly middle school Spanish students over homeschooling a strong-willed 6-year old; my dad, a gritty, self-made entrepreneur whose actions taught me to never give up and to trust my instincts. I needed support; Hudson needed stability; we all needed family.
As I drove down to NC, I thought about how much we had been through. Two years earlier, almost to the day, my life turned on a dime: I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
I was 36 years old with no family history. “Less than 1 percent chance,” doctors said. It still somewhat haunts me that I’m alive today only because of my persistence, perhaps ingrained in me from watching my dad never take “no” for an answer—and thereby achieve the seemingly impossible. I’m here writing this today because I didn’t accept the answers I was given. Not from the first doctor who said nothing was wrong. Or the fourth. Not as I teared up out of frustration, “I was a woman in the military, deployed to Afghanistan, trained not to complain. If I say something is wrong, I mean it!” Until a test—considered a longshot—ultimately led to my diagnosis; even a month later would have resulted in a markedly different prognosis.
I felt a wave of relief at finally having a diagnosis (I wasn’t a hypochondriac!), terrified of dying (Hudson mustn’t grow up without me!), enraged that this was happening to ME (why?), anxious at everything I couldn’t control and the unknown ahead. With a long road of surgeries, chemo and immunotherapy ahead, I realized I had a choice: be a victim, put cancer in the driver’s seat—or take charge and lead my best life.
And with that, I bought a season ski pass for the following year, fully realizing I’d still be in treatment. “The hell with cancer,” I said dispassionately. “I’m not missing another ski season.” I’d been waiting years to finally share my favorite sport with my son.
I went on living my life, often unbeknownst to those around me, thanks to Bobbi Brown bronzer and cold capping—a crazy invention where you literally freeze your scalp (by wearing a cap that’s -30° C!) to prevent hair loss during chemo. Life often didn’t look the same, but I took every opportunity to seize the moment when I was feeling well. I discovered if I chose to push forward with a positive attitude, extracting any goodness from a difficult situation, it made all the difference. It turned out skiing with Hudson—a couple hours on the slopes and a 7 pm bedtime—was just the right speed; no more nonstop laps while the chairs were spinning. It didn’t matter. Time with my son was more satisfying.