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?