Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge Day Two #HAWMC

  • 2 April 2012

Well, it’s come upon me fast: Day two of the WEGO Health Activist Writer’s Month for which I’ve signed up.  For the month of April I’m committed daily to write about health. 

It’s thrilling that I’m not alone in this endeavor: my blogging friends Marie Ennis-O’Connor and Yvonne Watterson have also joined the bandwagon. 

Today’s challenge is to find an inspiring quote (about health, of course) and write about it for 15 minutes.

The quote I’ve chosen is: ‎”Your outcome in life doesn’t depend on your income, but on how you overcome” by Croft Pentz.

I often find quotes from Croft Pentz to be clever, thought-provoking and insightful. But now that I’m doing this exercise, I find his quotes also to be introspective.

Frankly, I don’t know how Mr. Pentz arrives at his faith “Zingers”, as he calls them in his weekly e-mails to me, but their “punny” nature always carries a deeper meaning than meets the eye. This week’s quote carries a psychosocial message, one that should not be missed.

My life has been one of constant insecurities. To make up for my perceived lack of looks, I headed for the books. My whole self-esteem became wrapped up in academics and how many A’s I could accumulate during my twelve years in elementary, junior high and high school. If one B appeared on my report card, I would cry for days. A single grade would validate my feelings of worthlessness.

Because my nearly flawless academic record (achieved more by diligent study than by applied native intelligence) continued through graduate school, I landed very prestigious jobs as a patent attorney in cutting-edge companies. My income soared. Stock options and bonuses proliferated like rabbits. In my thirties I thought I had the world by its tail and would never want for anything.

But alas! It wasn’t meant to continue. Political maneuvering reigned as much behind closed doors as by espresso machines. The unspoken idol worshiped at all costs? Native intelligence. If you didn’t have a clever idea to offer at a staff meeting, you’d better keep your mouth shut. But not for too long. if you remained silent through more than two consecutive meetings, you could kiss the next promotional opportunity good-bye.

Enter my breast cancer, an unwanted character in this soap opera of existence. As soon as I had to take disability leave to undergo surgery, chemo and radiation, I knew my career as a manager at this stressful place was history. And dealing also with the demon of lymphedema management, I knew I had to drop the frantic pace–pronto. Once I transitioned to part-time work, I forfeited significant income.

When cancer returned seven years later, I knew more changes were in store. No matter how much money I made, no matter how many patent applications I filed, nothing would erase my history of cancer. Like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s main character Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter,” I bore a big “C” every day on my blouse that prompted whispers at the water cooler: “I wonder how long she’ll last here.” The big bucks would not restore big breasts or my self-image.

So would I let my large salary determine the outcome of my life? No way! Stressed out from feelings of rejection, excluded from the “winner’s circle”, I finally retired from that job after twenty years. My income plummeted, and my medical benefits turned to COBRA that snaked all too soon into sky-high individual premiums of $1200 a month. Still, I strived to keep my self-esteem intact. I volunteered for the American Cancer Society and spoke to support groups, church caring ministry groups, and any other audiences interested in my story.

When the stock market crashed in 2008, I faced trouble afresh. Losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement income right before my eyes, I wept in total despair. But not for long. After running through forests and biking down trails, I came to my senses. Would I let my newly found poverty define who I was as a person? Could I learn from knowing first-hand the challenges of sticking to a budget, of having to ask for scholarships to travel as a patient-advocate? Was it more important to learn the lessons of being in need rather than rely on my own intelligence and ability to hold a prestigious job?

I learned to swallow my pride.

The immediate lesson I took away from this seeming disaster concerned the principle that overcoming obstacles built character. It also increased compassion. Being much more empowered as a consumer than as a pride-filled manager of professionals, I became a better patient-advocate. I knew what it was like to pay for prescription drugs out of pocket, and why generic drugs are so important. This unexpected turn of events knocked me from my pedestal of arrogance.  I started speaking out, sharing tips on how to manage the stress that cancer brings on and what to say to cancer survivors that will be healing rather than hurtful. I stepped up my volunteer efforts, joining the boards of non-profit health organizations to benefit those less fortunate. I turned my technical writing as a patent attorney into writing books and blogging about my experience.

Stronger than ever, even though poorer than ever, I’m happier than I have been for most of my life. Having gone full circle, I’ve discovered who I am: a woman of worth, a woman who doesn’t worship the almighty dollar, a woman who knows who she is and what she is made of when under the gun. I’m an overcomer. While I still have much to learn, I’m hopeful I can meet any adversity with aplomb and dignity.

Do you believe that your outcome in life is determined more by how you overcome obstacles than by your financial success? What have you done to address the challenges you’ve faced in your life? What have been your coping skills?


  • Marie Ennis-O’Connor (@JBBC)

    Jan, I learn and grow from your writing and the quotes and scripture you share on FB every day. You are one of the most amazing women I have met and here is another example why – thanks for another great post and a further insight to who you are.

  • jhasak

    Marie, I’m so honored to learn that you have benefited from my daily FB posts and writing. Thanks so much for commenting, and for prodding me to continue this daily challenge. Just like you, I find it exhilarating to discover more about who I am and what life is about through this WEGO challenge. Brava to one of my most admired bloggesses. XXX

  • Beth L. Gainer

    Fantastic posting, Jan! You are indeed a woman of worth, and I cannot ever picture you being arrogant. Good for you for choosing your sanity over a stressful high-income job. When cancer appeared in my life, I learned many lessons: that my marriage was indeed a sham and needed to end, and that I needed a better job (not in term of income but one that would fuel the passion within me).

    I hung on every word of this posting. Great job and keep writing!!

  • yvonne

    Oh Jan,
    This is such a powerful and poignant piece of writing. I don’t know if I am hearing them or just imagining them, but “the whispers at the water cooler” scare me.
    I cannot think of a more beautiful way to be known than as “a woman of worth,” which indeed you are, and I am just honored to be doing this challenge along with you and Marie.

  • jhasak

    Thanks so much for the encouragement, Beth. This has been an eye-opening exercise that may change the face of my writing permanently. One never knows what will happen after undertaking challenges of this nature. I’m so glad you found your niche after cancer struck. Good for you to realize your marriage was a sham and that you needed a more fulfilling career. I know many women whose lives have been changed for the better after a cancer diagnosis. It seems counterintuitive, but we blogging sisters know better. Best wishes to you in your writing. I always enjoy your posts. XX

  • jhasak

    Thank you so much, Yvonne! I also feel privileged to be undertaking this challenge along with you and Marie. I know this will help us in many ways. Being known as a woman of worth is far better than as an attorney of girth. That’s what I was becoming, sitting in the office day and day and commuting an hour each way. Freedom rocks! Best wishes in your posts this month, Yvonne. I look forward to reading them. XX

  • Nancy’s Point

    Wow, Jan. Just wow. For once, I’m speechless! Thank you for your honesty. You are a woman of very great worth and I feel privileged to call you my friend.

  • jhasak

    Thanks much, Nancy. Coming from you, a woman I admire greatly, those words mean so much to me. I always feel total honesty and transparency are the best policy–and the best way to deepen friendships. xx