Surviving cancer has given me the ability to soar. Though my body is still in pain, I’ve learned if I focus on spirit, I experience true freedom, joy, and awareness. My spirit gives me the courage to speak out about my journey, and I now hope to be a voice for all who cannot speak for themselves. The inner bliss I feel gives me an infinite knowing of our universal oneness and of the greatness we all possess. I now see inspiration all around me. I see inspiration in you.
When I received my medical diagnosis in 2010 a spiral of negative thoughts began to overwhelm me. “What’s going to happen next? How will I pay my bills if I can’t work? How will I tell my friends, my loved ones?” I felt caught in a web of inertia — a tire stuck in the mud.
I began practicing a wide variety of calming techniques ranging from recognizing negative thoughts and replacing them with more productive and empowering ones, to incorporating a mindfulness practice into my daily routine. The expression of gratitude, repeating meditative affirmations as well as allowing humor were key ingredients in healing and dissolving fear. Once I set foot on this particular path of awareness my road of treatment was paved with clarity, strength and acceptance.
I was introduced to the Foundation for Living Beauty. It is difficult to find the words to express the gratitude and undying love I have for this organization and all involved. All I can say is attending the “Goddess Wellness Retreat” sponsored by The Foundation for Living Beauty in November of 2014 was like landing in the arms of a million angels.
It doesn’t take a bout with cancer to be a strong and powerful warrior. Coming to know the profound connection between our mind and body and embrace our scars (whether they be physical or emotional) gives us strength of character. Obstacles and limitations mean nothing. For it is not what happens to us that matters, it is what we become through experience that is significant.
I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer on October 1, 2009. I don’t think anyone wants to hear those words but I knew I would beat it. The gloves were on and I was ready to kick butt.
After nine months of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, I thought I knocked it out. To my surprise winning that fight was only the beginning. I spent another year fighting autoimmune issues. So the testing begins, MRI’s, PET scans, CT scans, blood work. I was told I would need a liver transplant within a year. I was in a wheelchair for about 6 months caused by my lupus diagnosis and fatigue that would keep me in bed for days.
To say that this was a lot to deal with, it was. I know that I’m a strong person but at a point you need someone or something to hold you up. I had my loved ones and friends but I needed someone to really understand what it was like to walk in my shoes. I joined support groups and cancer organizations that were all very helpful, but I believe the biggest transformation was my first yoga retreat that the Foundation for Living Beauty hosted. I will never forget the first day. I felt like I belonged and I was understood. More importantly, I was embraced so tight I felt completely supported. I could be strong and vulnerable at the same time. I met women whose fight was harder than mine and the courage they possessed only made me stronger. It was the strength in that room that first day that I carry with me.
Now when I’m told how amazing I look or how great I’m doing or what an inspiration I am, I know that I carry the strength and courage of these beautiful women. That is the gift the Foundation for Living Beauty gave me and others fighting cancer. I did know that first day I was diagnosed that I would survive cancer but I could have never imagined the sisterhood that empowers me every day. I’M GENA AND I’M A LIVING BEAUTY.
My first diagnosis taught me that I needed to be vulnerable. With my second diagnosis, I am learning HOW to be vulnerable; to embrace all its power, its strengths, its beauty and its full potential…that being vulnerable actually makes you stronger.
On June 20, 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Driving home from the doctor’s office upon diagnosis, I knew in my gut that I’d be able to fight this, that I’d do it with community and family, and that this was somehow a culmination of certain ways of being that I needed to transform and this was the moment to embark on that transformation. Without even trying, I could feel the shift within me. I suppose that was the first breath of what “gifts” cancer can bring.
Gift #1 – To finally (begin to) transform my own self in prioritizing my time, my health, my creative process, and my relationships outside of the work.
Gift #2 – The ways in which the community has shown up in every way imaginable and beyond. Folks got super organized; they set up a Youcaring site, did a full reach out to many circles and pulled together a meal-drop and ride schedule from surgery through chemo, held a benefit after I got through chemo, got artists together to create a chapbook of art and poetry to raise funds. They’ve all astounded me and have reminded me of my ultimate gratitude for community.
Gift #3 – The connections through cancer and talking about cancer what offers us. I felt a certain amount of privilege in having ways to speak publicly about my cancer journey. The connections we make through this path are a true gift. It’s with all of this that I’m able to fight and survive and thrive alongside cancer…the journey continues.
It’s as if something inside me got re-calibrated. My perception of my role in my family and my priorities and duties shifted entirely. I began putting myself first with ease. I tapped into that reserve strength we rarely get to use and I activated my healing, transforming from an off-kilter person to being intensely aware of my spiritual/emotional/physical balance. Now I keep my center by inhaling and exhaling and forging forward…every day.
Breast cancer has given me many gifts. I am the best person I have ever been. I have learned that I have the strength and courage to accomplish any goal I set for myself; including earning an AA, BA, and Master’s degree…during two battles with breast cancer, a mastectomy, chemotherapy (both times), radiation, and eight separate surgeries!
Breast cancer has given me the gift of sitting with a stranger last week, while she met with her oncologist for the first time. Breast cancer has helped to shape my career trajectory. I have been blessed to walk through the many phases of breast cancer – diagnosis through Stage 4 through the end of life – with breast cancer survivors and their families.
Breast cancer has been a gift that has enabled me to be a gift to others.
At 21 years old, being diagnosed with cancer and putting my life on hold was scary. I felt that I didn’t deserve this diagnosis, I didn’t deserve to be scarred in this way. Now, a year and a half in remission, I value my scars and thank cancer for what it gifted me.
Cancer, surprisingly enough, has given me countless gifts. While this disease was quite literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, I’ve learned to look at the beauty that it has offered.
Cancer has given me the gift of knowing my own resilience.
Cancer has given me the gift of holding all the new found joy in my life.
Cancer has given me the gift of loving myself.
Cancer has given me the gift of my closest and most true friendships.
Cancer has given me the gift of finding mission and passion for my future.
Cancer has given me the gift of breaking down walls and wearing my heart on my sleeve.
Cancer has given me the gift of radiance. Literally.
Cancer has given me the gift of gratitude.
And most importantly, cancer has given me the gift of Life.
Cervical cancer has given me the precious gift of time. Time to self-reflect, connect with survivors and cancer fighters, acquire knowledge, act on that new knowledge, and improve how I care for and nourish my body, mind and spirit.
Cancer has given me clarity.