There are some dreams in life even cancer can’t dash. For Michelle Kaplan, that was becoming a mom.
It didn’t matter that she was recently divorce when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 at the age of 37.
“I had eight chemo treatments. I just had my fourth round and I remember I was in that part where you start shutting down around 1 in the afternoon and on this day I just kind of lost it. I just laid down and thought ‘if I get through this, I’m going to be a mom.”
Easier said then done, especially for a single woman now considered a cancer survivor.
“I found out the summer of 2005 – May or June – that the chemo had put me in permanent menopause and that I couldn’t have children of my own,” she said.
Breast cancer treatment had left her mentally, spiritually and physically tired. And then there was the anger of what cancer had robbed from her contained in those nagging, unanswered questions: Why can’t I become a mom? Why is this so difficult for me?
“I got married and always wanted to have kids,” she said. “So after chemo and my diagnosis, I was just pissed.” There were other losses to mourn too – one of three women on the same breast cancer journey died from the disease. “So there was that question of why did I survive and she did not?”
Michelle worked through her breast cancer treatments, something she says she’d do differently if she were to do it again.
Shortly after she finished, “I got a performance review that wasn’t horrible, but it was the worst performance review I’d had. I met 8 out of 10 objectives. But to me, I was busting my ass. I was exhausted and they were totally clueless.
I thought ‘what the hell am I doing? I got angry and decided ‘Enough! I don’t want to be a part of this any more. It’s not acceptable. It was a big wake up call.’”
It was on a business trip around that time that she came across the book The Success Principles by Jack Canfield which gave her the practical steps she needed to take to reach her dream.
“My steps were very specific,” said Michelle. “I decided that to be a mom, I had to get a new job. I had to be financially stable but couldn’t travel as much. I was able to switch jobs in the company. Then I had to get a house.”
On an index card she kept her goals written, along with completion dates. New job by November 1st (she started October 1st); become a mom by May 31, 2007. That one turned out to be a stretch. She adopted her daughter Mia from Guatemala- after being turned away by many other countries because of her breast cancer history – and brought her home July 7, 2007, exactly three years after her breast cancer diagnosis a little more than a month shy of her goal.
“Cancer is my benchmark for everything,” she said, explaining how it’s changed her views in life. “It did give me the strength to say ‘I now know what I want to do.’”
“Before cancer, I always knew what my path was in my heart, .but in my head I would talk myself out of it After cancer, do it.”
Michelle is a life coach and now gives back by teaching classes for cancer survivors who are trying to adjust to their “new normal.”
“Your life is never going to be the same again, even if you’re in the same place so as soon as you realize that the sooner you’ll be able to move on a little quicker.”
Her advice: take some time alone somewhere quiet – the mountains, the beach.
“Ask yourself what you really want in your life and .resolve to pick one thing you absolutely have to have and figure out how to get it in your life And if you don’t know how, well just ask, ask, ask.
Authors note: Michelle wrote an incredible piece describing the “new normal” life after cancer which I have shared in a separate post.
3 Steps to take
1. Take some time alone, preferable in nature, such as the mountains or the beach. Check out Mary’s Place By the Sea, a free retreat house for women cancer patients and survivors in Ocean Grove, NJ.
2. Pick one goal that you absolutely have to accomplish in your life and put together a plan to see it through.
3. When you get stuck or don’t know how to move forward, ask, ask, ask!
The Success Principles by Jack Canfield
After Breast Cancer: A Common Sense Guide to Life After Treatment by Hester Hill Schnipper