PASSPORT TO FREEDOM

INTRODUCTION

Introduction

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms— to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

  —Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

This book came into being because I finally got over my resistance and reluctance to put pen to paper after the hundredth time (literally) my friends asked me when I was going to write the book about my cancer journey. So here we go…

Passport to Freedom is intended to be a sassy and sometimes humorous and irreverent look at one of life’s hardest lessons. It is about how to thrive when a surprise verdict of aggressive cancer lands on your doorstep. Note I said thrive, not cope, live with, or survive. Our words matter, so I deliberately chose the word thrive as the meta theme for this journey, with all the ripple implications of that word.

Every book needs a storyline to create momentum and carry the reader forward. The storyline here is how I chose to make the sudden diagnosis of cancer into an adventure. Not because I am some sort of wide-eyed optimist but because that was the only way I knew how to deal with this sudden assault on my somewhat predictable life.

I have been on many adventures in my life, and some of them even resurface in this book through lessons I’ve learned, so I am no stranger to risk and travels. I sometimes joke that my camouflage is to look like a pretty normal, now gray-haired lady in her sixties. But underneath that exterior is a very determined, resourceful tough cookie. Also, framing this year as a bold, risky mission allowed me to tap into a different part of my personality that I call the macho jock adventurer. She had not been out to play in a while, and calling her forth has served me well on this journey.

This book is not intended to be all about me. I hope that it leaves you with insights, practical tips, and above all hope when cancer strikes you or someone you love. A dear friend and colleague recently shared with me the distinction between a motivational speaker and an inspirational speaker. At the end of a motivational talk, you are left thinking about the speaker. At the end of an inspirational talk, you are left reflecting on your own life and how to move forward using the wisdom provided. My goal is that in reading these chapters, you will be inspired to summon your own inner resources on your cancer adventure. I share my own personal story as the vehicle, because that is one place where I am an expert.

Cancer is literally an epidemic in our society right now. I wish to be a small part of changing the conversation around cancer from one of dread, despair, and fear to one of possibility, inspired action, and resilience. Steve Jobs spoke of “making a dent in the Universe.” If I can make a small dent in the hopelessness and shock that surround a cancer diagnosis, this book will have served its purpose.

In May of 2016, after a routine yearly mammogram, I was called back and given the word that I had a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. Now, breast cancer comes in many different flavors, and this form was one of the two major “baddies.” Believe me, it was a total surprise. I had no symptoms, and I was running full speed ahead at 200 percent, building a new consulting and executive-coaching practice, which I had launched a few months previously. And then wham, the two-by-eight hit! For those not familiar with the term, a two-by-eight is a large piece of wood used in construction. Getting slammed by one is certainly not equivalent to a whisper or gentle tap on the shoulder.

Looking back, it was not a total surprise, since a couple of times previously in my life, I had used the two-by-eight method to catapult me into new adventures and phases of my life. What can I say? That is just my style, and it has served me well over the years. With hindsight, which is always 20/20, the diagnosis was just what I needed in the moment. Since I can be a little more stubborn or dense than many others, the Universe provides me with its own way of shifting and gaining momentum that I was a little slow to generate on my own.

I can now say that the cancer has been a gift, taking me to new places and on adventures in service that I did not anticipate. I might have gotten there over time on my own, but clearly there was a higher force saying, “Game on; we need you now.”

Some of my readers may find the tone of this book a bit upsetting, and some will love it. The tone is very deliberate. Believe me, I am no Pollyanna when it comes to the subject of cancer; I watched several great people die of it during the year I was on my own journey. My heart goes out to their families and loved ones.

This is an adventure story in which a certain attitude is critical in opening doors to big and small miracles on the path. Today I am cancer-free, and I intend to stay that way. This book is a tribute to my team of miracle workers, who showed up in my life just when I needed them.

The format of the book is short chapters of anecdotes and stories interlaced with reflection activities, insights, and questions to ponder while you are on your own journey. And while I use cancer as a metaphor to keep the story moving, the insights also apply to any event you consider life threatening at the moment. That event could be a divorce, a car accident, or some other major life trauma that lands on your doorstep.

In today’s digital world, attention spans are short. And I know from going through the rigors of chemotherapy that reading only a few pages was all I could handle at the time. So I have designed the book with that in mind. While the journey is described chronologically, you can flip to any chapter that calls to you and have fun with that short story and with what resonates with you in the moment.