When I was 38 years old I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia — that was found in 96% of my body — and given six weeks to live.
That was five years ago.
I have two sons who were one and three years old at the time. I couldn’t touch anybody or even kiss or hug my boys for two years because I couldn’t be around germs. I had rounds and rounds of chemotherapy and I was so sick; I had to take 45 pills (medicine not supplements) a day. Everything went on pause; life, career, everything. All I did was go to the hospital. It became my second home. I was only focused on surviving and I never lost faith that I would. I finished chemo at 39 and just before my 40th birthday I had a bone marrow transplant. My brother wasn’t a match which was devastating. But then an unrelated donor was a perfect match and I was able to have this life-saving surgery. Recovering from the transplant was a whole other journey. It gave me a second chance at life but nothing is ever perfect and the transplant created a whole new host of health challenges.
What would you say has been the biggest shift in your life since turning 40?
Right around the time I turned 40 my hair started growing back, I started being able to get out of the house a bit more, and return to my “normal life”. For my birthday that year, I threw myself a party. I still didn’t have much energy but I invited my friends over to celebrate and dedicated what energy I did have to make it beautiful and festive. That party brought sunshine into my life at that moment. It was then that I started feeling the shift. I had dealt with the worst and now I was moving on. I was so proud of my accomplishment. I had gotten through this nightmare and now I was rocking it! The sense of victory was enormous. I was and still am so grateful. My perspective is very, very different now. Sometimes I still think about what I went through and have dark moments but then I come back and am able to see how beautiful life is. I see beauty in everything.
When do you feel you are most powerful?
Before I got sick I never had done any painting but while I was sick I came across the Art for Cancer Foundation and saw that they offered free workshops for anyone affected by cancer. I had such a profound experience in that first workshop. Being sick, I was so out of control but when I started creating — painting — everything was in my hands. After 3 hours of making choices about colours, shapes, etc., I felt so empowered. I left thinking, “Jess, you’ve got this!”. I felt so in control. Painting is still when I feel most powerful and I’ve discovered I have a real talent for it!
What are the top three most important things to you right now?
- Love (my kids and husband)
- Food (because when you’re sick you don’t get to eat. Everything tastes horrible or you can’t keep it down.)
How do you make sure your actions are aligned with what’s most important to you?
I kiss my kids and husband every day. We sit down and hug and kiss. I am able to 100% devote my time and energy to my boys, bringing them to school, to practice, and volunteering. I eat real food without restricting myself and I’m so grateful for the simplest things. A piece of bread with butter brings me so much joy. And, I still paint once or twice a month and have gotten more involved for Art for Cancer Foundation.
What seeds are you planting today for the future?
I fill my kids with love, courage, and kindness. I’m trying to figure out what’s next for me career-wise. I know I don’t want to go back to my sales and marketing career that I had when I got sick. I want to help people. I know I survived for a reason and that I am an inspiration. Right now I’m just trying to figure out what’s next for me.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in redesigning midlife?
I’m in the midst of doing it myself! When we’re younger we have so many unknowns and that creates a lot of fear. In midlife, we have the wisdom, we have the experience, and for a lot of people, we have the financial stability. This is the time to party! I’m much wiser, I’m much kinder, I’m a much better person so this is the time for me to do great things.
But I also understand that It’s hard for people to shift at this age because life has been comfortable. Especially if we’re on the “path”. Unless something happens that shocks you out of your comfortable life, I think it’s hard to imagine making big changes.
My biggest advice is: lose the “should” word…Just forget about “should”!
How can people connect with you and your work?
Email me firstname.lastname@example.org.