By Angela Sheets
This past December, the company I work for, Creative Group, unveiled its new logo and tagline to employees: “Let’s Thrive.” At the time, I thought the logo looked great and Let’s Thrive was a catchy slogan. To extend the new tagline, we began emphasizing a new word: ThrivabilitySM, which we define as “The art and science of reaching for the stars and nurturing individual greatness.” We strive to apply this to the meaning and purpose behind every program and experience we create for our clients. After the announcement, the company’s president, Janet Traphagen, met with us in individual groups and asked, “How are you thriving?” She understood that if we didn’t feel like we were thriving, our clients certainly would not either. I thought for a moment. I had quit going to the gym, so no thriving there. I was working full-time, keeping up with my client’s needs, all while being a mother to my two-year-old daughter and three-year-old son. Simply being ultra-busy didn’t qualify as thriving either. I decided I didn’t have much of an answer for her.
I had no inkling how much more meaningful “Let’s Thrive” would become for me until a couple months later, when I found out my cancer was back, and here to stay.
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer when I was seven months pregnant in March 2014. A week later, I found out it was also in at least one lymph node. With a 16-month-old at home, I delivered a beautiful baby girl a few weeks earlier than planned. I immediately began four months of chemotherapy, and underwent a mastectomy and lymph node removal, along with thirty rounds of radiation. Now my only goal was survival, and my only focus was to be the best mother I could and not let my treatments affect my children.
Shortly after my radiation concluded, I began working at Creative Group, doing contract work as a Travel Buyer. I really loved my team and I became a permanent employee a few months later. I concentrated primarily on sourcing programs in the Life Sciences market, and I enjoyed the “churn and burn” of the meetings. I was able to go back to a job that I enjoyed while my children joined a daycare to interact with other kids. I could shield them from a down or rough day, and after work, I had the energy to play and focus solely on them.
About a year later, I found myself becoming extremely exhausted and I was experiencing back pain. I’ll admit I’m always exhausted from recovering from previous treatments and chasing two toddlers, but this was different. After a routine follow-up appointment with my oncologist and a few scans, I was told my original cancer had somehow beaten the treatment and spread into my spine. I had one to three lesions inside my spine. Because it was caught early the lesions were not large, but the cancer had metastasized, which meant it was considered stage IV. This time the course of treatment was focused more on helping me maintain a balanced life than beating cancer. I was devastated, angry and scared, but I was still more determined than ever to refuse to allow cancer to get in the way of my life.
I followed any and all treatment suggestions, including some fortuitous advice from a friend who encouraged me to join a group for those diagnosed with stage IV cancer under the age of 40. I took it as a promising sign that they called themselves “Thrivers!” Thrive, by definition, is to prosper; be fortunate or successful. This group of women and men took their diagnoses and prospered by offering support and guidance to others. These were people from all over the country that I could relate to and who offered me advice. They truly understood what I was going through. They made me feel better about myself, and their stories inspired me to be the best person I could be.
I also faced the challenge of what I was going to do with my future – and my family’s future. Then a simple question made me stop and reflect. There was a quiz making the rounds in which kids were asked questions about their parents. One of the questions was, “What do your parents do?” to which my son replied, “My mom goes to the doctor a lot and works.” I wasn’t satisfied with that answer. I sat down with him and tried to think of the best way to explain what I did and to show that I was actually thriving and not just surviving. Finally, I told my son that, yes, I did see doctors, but I also help plan meetings for doctors. I told him that I create meetings to make people better. I plan meetings to make people better at their jobs; I plan meetings for doctors to collaborate and discover ways to make people feel better; I plan meetings to make doctors better at helping people, like Mommy.
I was satisfied with that answer.
It will soon be six months since I received my diagnosis of stage IV cancer. I have learned to accept that it will always be a part of my life, but it does not control my life. It has made me appreciate life more, and I do everything to make the most of each day. I can honestly say I’m thriving, and I’m determined. I know I’m doing what is best to maintain a healthy lifestyle and I’m doing what is best for my family. I’ve learned work/life balance, and I try to separate work time from my personal time. I’ve learned to turn off my computer and cell phone and cherish the moment I pick up my kids. For the rest of the day, I’m dedicated to being the best mom I can be.
When I first finished my breast cancer treatment, I was told many times that I was “such a survivor.” It was true. I felt like I was surviving, from moment to moment and day to day, with just barely enough of my sanity and energy intact. By simply “surviving” I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything. When I was diagnosed the second time, everyone told me, again, that I was a survivor and that I would beat it. Medically, that is not possible – yet! I now correct them and thank them, but I also add that I’m not just surviving; I’m living and making the most of my life. Life is too short to just survive, and we all need to find ways to prosper, to realize personal successes and simply be happy in every moment we are given.
I’ve also learned the importance of what I do and I know I’m making a difference. As meeting and event professionals, we do help other people thrive, and in turn, we hope they are spreading their greatness to others as well.
Let’s all work to thrive and reach our full potential.
Only 2% of Breast Cancer donations go toward Metastatic Research. To learn more about Metastatic Breast Cancer, research, support and to spread awareness, please visit http://metavivor.org/. METAvivor is the only organization that solely funds MBC research through a scientific peer-review process.