· By Leeanna Gantt
I am not my Cancer - How having breast cancer didn't make me a warrior it made me an entrepreneur.
When I sat down to write this I thought that I should write about my breast cancer experience from diagnosis through treatment and recovery. But I really, really didn’t want to do that.
It’s not fun. I don’t really feel like I have an inspiring story. Honestly, chemo knocked me on my rear, so I don’t remember huge chunks of it, and what I do remember is a bit jumbled-up. So what should I write? Why should I write anything?
Because I am much more than my cancer and I feel that sharing that message might help others.
I am a daughter.
I am a wife.
I am a mom.
I am a loyal friend.
I am a pretty good baker.
I am a reader.
I am a Stephen King fan.
I am a so-so cook, but that doesn’t stop me.
I am a klutz.
I am an adventurer (in my own nerdy way).
I am a Californian.
I am a crafty person.
I am a compulsive organizer.
I am a procrastinator.
I am a dog lover.
I am a cat lover.
I am a recent breast cancer survivor.
I am a very new entrepreneur.
You get the idea. I will be a whole lot of things in my life. I hope to be remembered for many of them, not just as a breast cancer survivor.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to run from it, or hide the fact that it happened. When you design a product during treatment for breast cancer, the best way to tell people about it is to share your story. For me, my story includes the fact that this product (still very arts and crafts at the time) was incredibly useful for myself and my family during my treatment.
Here’s the thing. When I think about the last year of my life, I don’t think about breast cancer very often. I don’t think “Wow, I survived breast cancer isn’t it amazing I’m doing…..” Of course, I am incredibly happy to be able to do so many things. As with many people who have gone through any number of life-changing experiences, I have a new appreciation for the everyday things that I couldn’t even think of doing during my year of treatment. But as surprising as it might sound, cancer isn’t top-of-mind for me.
For many people, cancer changes their story in a different way. They become cancer warriors, messengers, cheerleaders, and guides for those of us who need it after diagnosis. Thank goodness for all these wonderful and amazing people. I can’t put into words how comforting it was for me to be able to go online and find someone’s story that I could relate to. A tweet, blog post, or Instagram photo that let me know that a particular part of my journey had happened to someone else as well. The world needs people who feel so passionately about sharing their story with others and spreading their message, whether it be hope, courage, anger, humor, or advocacy.
But as of now, that isn’t going to be part of my journey. It’s not that I don’t want to help others. It’s that I am choosing to help in a different way.
Something I learned during my treatment is that there is no one way or right way to do any part of this cancer journey. Some people love the cancer warrior image, some people love support groups, some want to be alone, some want tons of information, and some like information on a need-to-know basis. Others run a 5k during chemo (definitely not me) while other people can barely stand up to go to the bathroom (definitely me). Many have the same diagnosis on paper but receive very different courses of treatment.
There are so many differences in how we all go through the cancer journey, from diagnosis to treatment to recovery — and that’s okay. There is no right or wrong way to do any part of it. Things can and will change as you go through each step of the process. Your process just needs to work for you, nobody else.
Once you start on this journey it never ends. Cancer will always be part of your story because what we go through changes us. How much is up to you. When is up to you. In what way is up to you.
That’s where I’m at right now, the next step of my journey and my story. I am a new business owner. Which is it’s own crazy journey. I love learning new things, meeting new people, and hopefully helping people with my product along the way.
I would love to say I started out with a plan to help others after I got my breast cancer diagnosis. I didn’t set out to come up with a way to help other cancer patients. I didn’t even set out to invent anything. It just sort of happened.
But once I realized that the little labels that I had been making to help my family and I keep track of my medications worked really well, I knew that I needed to keep working on them so I could share them with others. Selfishly, it also gave me something else to think about on days when I was well enough to be up, but not well enough to go out and do anything. Since my husband and I are both designers we were able to sit with a sketch pad and a laptop in the bed and design together.
By the time I finished my last infusion at the oncologist’s office in December of 2018, the prototypes were finished, and had we had been testing them out for a while. I was ready to move forward with my new business! I had a new goal and a new chapter of my story to work on right away. Exactly what I needed.
Currently, I have many goals for my business. The first is to help as many people as I can know if they took their medication or still need to take it. The more research I’ve done, the more I know how much tooktake is needed. Medication non-compliance (the technical term for forgetting to take your meds) is an issue for at least 50% of the people who take prescription medications. That doesn’t even include over-the-counter medications. Tooktake has also turned out to be great for pet owners since our furry friends can’t talk.
The second goal is to help to change people’s perception of having to take medication in general. I’d love for medication to be a sign to other people that you are doing what you need to do to take care of yourself, whether that means taking Tamoxifen to help prevent a recurrence of breast cancer, something to lower your cholesterol, prevent allergy symptoms or help with anxiety. Whatever you need to do to safely stay happy and healthy should be applauded and supported not looked at as though it’s a weakness or sign that something is “wrong” with you. I could go on for a (long) while on this point, but I’ll stop here.
My entrepreneurial journey is almost as surprising to me as my cancer diagnosis was, and in some ways just as scary. I am excited to see where my newest journey will lead me. I didn’t know that my breast cancer journey would lead me to become an inventor and businesswoman, and I don’t know what will come next with my new venture.
I do know that I am many many things and I’ll continue to make that list longer each and every day.
Originally published on the “Cancer Care Parcel Blog” blog Sept. 12, 2019