Following treatment for breast cancer, Terri Wingham found herself grappling with unexpected feelings of isolation, fear of recurrence, and depression. Searching for something that would inspire her again, she signed up for a volunteer trip to Africa and the dream for A Fresh Chapter was born.
Curiosity: The desire to learn or know more about something or someone. ~ Merriam Webster
Cancer and the business of living well beyond diagnosis is far from black and white. Our stories are as individual as snowflakes and there is no “right path” to heal from cancer’s emotional trauma.
But, what if we could take a step back and get curious about the bigger picture? Not just the age old question of, “what does my cancer experience mean?” but the even bigger question of “who am I now and what do I want the next chapter in my life to be?”
What if we could think, for a moment, about our life as a movie and cancer as an unexpected (and unwanted) plot twist?
My dance with cancer began in 1998 when I learned that I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation. I did by best to side-step the risks, but it all caught up to me on October 27, 2009. After the physical obstacle course of treatment and a litany of questions about “why me”, I spent two years in intensive therapy to unpack the dusty emotional baggage that cancer had brought to light.
Now, as I approach the 6-year mark since my breast cancer diagnosis and the decisions ahead about when to extract my ovaries, I find myself wading into the role of detective in my own life with bigger questions like:
What could I be more honest with myself about in terms of what I really want?
Who are the people in my life who make me feel lit up and how can I invest more time and energy into these relationships?
What could I do that would fill me so fully with purpose that my fears of a recurrence or a secondary cancer have less room to flourish?
None of these questions come with static or easy answers. But, thankfully, the answer to question 3 became clear for me on April 16, 2011 when I decided to do something so epic that cancer could no longer be the leading story in my life. From Vancouver, Canada, to Cape Town, South Africa, I committed to spending 6-weeks volunteering in an underfunded daycare in one of Cape Town’s poorest townships.
I didn’t know exactly what I was searching for. But, I wanted to feel alive again. Whole again. Inspired again. Like something, other than my surgeries and scans, mattered. I wanted to stop feeling victimized by a disease and instead feel like a new path for my life was possible.
When I stepped into that daycare and was surrounded by the unabashed love of a group of rambunctious toddlers and when I saw the struggle in the eyes of women who wanted a better life for their kids, my perspective shifted. Struggle is universal and so is resilience.
By stepping beyond the anger and depression of cancer and choosing a new plot twist for my story, I finally felt alive again.
What if, for one moment, you could join me in pulling the lens back from the cancer chapter(s) of your story and getting curious about how you want your next act to unfold? If this experience has made you a stronger and more compelling character in the movie of your life, what could your character do with this newfound strength and perspective?
The options are limitless. But, if the idea of blending volunteering and meaningful travel resonates with you, A Fresh Chapter invites you to apply to join us for our 4th India Odyssey Program in March 2016.
You’ll have the chance to volunteer with inspiring community based projects in New Delhi and then stand in awe as the sun rises over the Taj Mahal.
Regardless of where your story takes you, I hope you find a way to fully embrace your next chapter.
Terri Wingham, Founder & Executive Director, A Fresh Chapter
310-227-0340 | 604-290-5503 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Skype: terri.wingham