I want to tell you a story about how fear fuels passion, and hope fuels new ideas. How the scariest, most uncertain things in our life sometimes end up bringing us the most joy, and the best perspective. It’s a story about my life as a child, having a mom diagnosed with breast cancer. That diagnosis has greatly impacted my mom and our family, but not in the ways you might think.
“I have cancer.” The words I’ll never forget, even 18 years later. My mom is a teacher, and spent her afternoons driving both of us home from school, a perk I grew to appreciate and now look back on with fond memories. Little did I know that one drive home would change our lives forever.
We stopped for ice cream, and as we sat in the parking lot my mom turned to me. Those three words, even today still echo in my head. “I have cancer.” It was a complete blur, I had no idea what she meant. I could tell it was serious, a daughter has the instinct to know when something isn’t right with her mom. But I couldn’t grasp what having “cancer” really meant.
Over the next few weeks, we talked about her losing her hair, and the fact that she was going to look different for a while. And when she came home from surgery, I knew she was in pain. But to be honest, I knew nothing in comparison to what I know now, as a 27 year old reflecting on her journey. I knew nothing because I wasn’t a woman yet, I was a nine year old girl. I didn’t understand what breasts were, and I didn’t completely understand what it meant to lose them. I’ve always had an immense amount of respect for my mom, but through the years and after gaining an understanding of what her having breast cancer really meant, I can honestly say that I don’t think it’s possible to respect my mom any more than I do today.
Cancer from a child’s perspective is unique, to say the least. When someone you love has cancer, it feels like you’re going through it right alongside them. Because in a way, you are. You grieve with them, you cry with them, you feel completely helpless. But that helplessness is sometimes what drives what I call, fiery passion. Passion driven by anger or sadness to fix a noted problem.
From my mom’s diagnosis, an idea was born. When I was in college at the University of Cincinnati, I was studying fashion design and wasn’t really sure where my studies were taking me. I was searching for a deeper purpose in the things I was designing, and quite honestly, I was struggling. What was I passionate about? What did I want to commit my time and career to designing? Then, it happened. A lightbulb moment. I thought about all of the needs people encountered that left them with limited options in clothing. And my passion, my experiences, led me to discussions with my mom. What was it like to have breast cancer? “What were your frustrations?” I asked. And, to my surprise, in the midst of all of the pain and all of the memories, was a bright light… a beacon of hope. A solution to a problem that so many women, like my mom, have faced. I knew I was on to something, something big. What I didn’t know, was how “big” this thing was. It was bigger than I ever imagined it could be.
I remembered going to Target with my dad and looking for clothes that would be easy for her to put on, also knowing that my mom had style. And liked to spend time getting ready every day. The result? Going right back home and pulling together my dad’s button-down shirts, because we couldn’t find anything that would be comfortable and easy enough for her to put on. And the first clue to the fact that this simply wasn’t good enough, was the fact that my mom had countless visitors coming to and from the house every day wanting to see her. And, my mom is not the type to greet a visitor in her pajamas. As if it’s not already hard enough feeling like you’re wearing the word “cancer” on your forehead, now you’re dressing in men’s clothing and pajamas with all of your loved ones coming to visit. Why wasn’t there a stylish option for women to wear when recovering from surgery? The surgical drain my mom was sent home with following her partial mastectomy was cumbersome and uncomfortable, but I didn’t understand why there wasn’t a garment with a pocket to simply hold the drain in place. So, I created one. I created one to help all women who are faced with battling the same experiences as my mom.
I look back on this journey, that’s taken me from a nine year old whose mom had cancer, to a fashion design program, to a Master’s degree in which I proved this concept as a written thesis titled “Beautiful can be Bold: A New Way to Wear the Drain,” and I can’t help but feel grateful. Grateful that my mom is a warrior, who successfully beat cancer. And grateful for the moments that your worst experiences and most feared memories become something beautiful. And bigger than yourself.
Life has a funny way of telling you what you’re meant to do. You have to be on the lookout for subtle signs and little things that point to passion and joy. When something makes you happy, or makes you scared, or even sad, there is something driving that emotion. It’s usually passion. Creating solutions to problems in life is exhilarating, it’s fun and adventurous. And it feels amazing when you know that you, yourself, have the ability to create something that never ever existed in the world, until YOU thought of it. Look at problems not as problems, but as opportunities. Even problems that are the most frustrating problems ever.
My mom is my muse, my inspiration to search for a deeper purpose in life. Inspiration surrounds us, in the people we know, in the experiences we have, in the things that bring us joy. When I was nine, and my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I never dreamed it would bring any kind of joy to our family. Being a child with a parent who has cancer is terrifying, it feels like a wound that leaves scars for life. But having a loved one who has cancer can also make you feel a sense of love and passion like you’ve never felt before.
I’ve spoken a lot in this story about passion. Because, I believe in my heart, that passion and chasing a dream go hand-in-hand. Find your passions. Chase your dreams. And never, ever give up. No matter how scary or unusual something is, even if it’s someone in your life who has cancer.
Guest post by Megan Sullivan, Founder of With Grace B. Bold - luxurious post-mastectomy womenswear.
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