When I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer at age 36, I was the CEO of a three-million dollar company, a part-time river guide, an active volunteer in my community, and I was single and living alone. That last piece became the sticking point for me. “How am I am going to do this on my own,” I wondered? With my family far away, a company to run with employees who are counting on me and not even a boyfriend by my side, I was concerned. I had never felt more alone in my life.
Cancer quickly helped me see how connected I truly was, how many people loved me and how much support I had. I received cards, letters and gifts from hundreds of people, rides to doctor appointments, and so much love from the people in my life. Nearly $10,000 was raised in my name to support ovarian cancer research, and another $25,000 for my treatment during two subsequent recurrences. Someone flew out to Colorado to be with me during each Wednesday chemo session and through the weekend after, friends and family members took care of me during recovery from four surgeries, and I was supported in numerous other ways I couldn’t even imagine.
There were many valuable lessons from my cancer experience, the biggest of which was learning how to ask for help and graciously receiving the support of others. Before being diagnosed, I prided myself on my independence, on my strength, and on my contributions to others. I got my value from serving, and was uncomfortable being on the receiving end. Since surviving cancer three times, I recognize that my value comes just from being me, and I don’t have to do anything to earn my place in the world. It feels good to allow myself to be supported and taken care of by others.
On my one-year cancerversary (anniversary of my diagnosis), I started writing a blog called A Single Cell about my experiences as a solo survivor. Nearly every month since then, I have posted my thoughts on navigating this experience as a singleton, and my message resonated with others in the same boat. A few years ago, a publisher came across my blog and offered me a book deal. Being Single, With Cancer: A Solo Survivor’s Guide to Life, Love, Health & Happiness was published in August of 2014, and my new career as a healing coach and speaker began. I lead healing trips and retreats, coach singles and survivors on how to find the silver linings and lessons in whatever they are dealing with and share lessons from my own experience and others’ in my book.
More than half the U.S. population is single and 31 million of us live alone. As the World Health Organization predicts cancer rates will rise by more than 57% over the next 20 years, more and more of us will likely be dealing with serious illnesses as single people. While this bodes well for my book sales, it demonstrates the very real need for more support, services and resources for the single set. My organization, Solo Survivors, was founded for that purpose, and serving single survivors is my second act.