I cannot fathom looking my family in the eye, sharing with them the words, “I have cancer.” I cannot fathom the courage it requires to be staring down the reality of a life-threatening illness like cancer. I cannot fathom the strength required to go through every round of chemotherapy or radiation treatment in hopes that it’s the right plan. I cannot fathom bearing the severity of every excruciating ramification of cancer treatment. I cannot fathom having to stay positive, despite the idea that there are no guarantees of this illness leaving the human body for good. These are just a few factors Molly Boylan has had to face over the last few years, upon her diagnosis of breast cancer.
I first met Molly back in college after becoming best friends with her daughter, Courtney. Courtney played on the women’s basketball team at Michigan, while I was on the volleyball team. We were the same graduating class and had the same “underdog” approach to our sports; we stood at 5’5” apiece, but that didn’t stand in our way of pursuing the sports we loved.
We became instant friends… all it took was one self-deprecating ginger joke out of me, and Courtney was on board with being my friend (for life) and college roommate right off the hop. We bonded through our trials and triumphs of Michigan athletics. Courtney is the kind of friend that lights up a room, has the most compassionate heart, is so strongly dedicated to her life endeavors, and cares so deeply about others. Not only is she one of the most beautiful people I’ve seen, but her inner beauty is what makes her shine so bright, it’s unmatched and completely genuine. Look no further than her mom, Molly, also one of the most beautiful ageless beauties I’ve seen, to understand where Courtney gets all these wonderful qualities from. They are simply two really good, down to earth, hard-working, Midwest gems. Molly is the ideal mom; she gives the best advice, she’s so supportive, she never judges, and she always has the right things to say.
During some of my most challenging times, I would often confide in Molly, and she just understood me, listened to me, and empathized with me… her words soothed my soul every time. She’s one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met. When I first heard of Molly’s breast cancer diagnosis, I was in disbelief. As you can see, she looks totally healthy on the outside, she takes great care of her body, and she has the love and support of her family and kids, in which she adores.
At first glance, you would never know the kind of battle she’s facing on the inside… the battle that is all too common in this world… breast cancer. That’s the thing that really sucks about cancer in any form; it can strike at any time, and it can happen to anyone. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, and it always seems to infest the lives of some of the best quality people. I’ve never understood that, and I absolutely hate it.
My heart goes out to anyone out there battling circumstances like cancer—I am in awe of you and lack the courage you possess.
Molly became my inspiration to write this and to go all out in the upcoming charity event I’m participating in, Dancing with the Chicago Celebrities, in which all the proceeds go to breast cancer. When I say all out, I mean within the first ten seconds of this dance routine, I’ll be performing “samba rolls”… which sounds fun and exciting… until you realize your hips and shoulders aren’t meant to go in opposing circling directions very naturally. Google Samba rolls, and then picture someone with no dance background doing THAT… should be quite entertaining. Quite frankly, the thought of putting on a ninety second Samba dance routine in front of a room full of people and possibly making a fool of myself
was a little scary at first. That fear quickly dissipated by keeping people like Molly at the forefront of my mind through every practice, and through every step of the final show coming up on Friday. At the end of the day, this isn’t about me or my dance routine, it’s about using the platform I’ve been graced with for a cause greater than myself. I want to do whatever little part I can to raise as much money and awareness as possible to battle a terrible disease that affects the lives of so many innocent people.
In efforts to generate further understanding on the people this cause is supporting and the realities they face, Molly was kind enough to do a Q and A with me for this blog post. I hope we can all take a page out of Molly’s book, as someone who’s been dealt a really crappy hand, but is making the most out of her situation. She blows me away with her positivity and courage during a time of the most extreme adversity. There are few better ways to really gain perspective on life, than by learning from someone who has faced a life-threatening illness like cancer. Molly Boylan, you are amazing, thank you for opening up about your story:
(Q) When you first heard the words, “you have cancer,” what’s running through your mind?
(A) I went straight to an out of body experience. The room and the people in the room started spinning, it was as if they were in slow motion and I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I don’t know how long it lasted, but when I came out of those moments I was all business… what do I need to do, what is the plan… no emotion.
(Q) How do you shift your mind from becoming a victim of this situation to a survivor and one that’s going to beat this?
(A) It took me a day or two of coping and then I automatically switch to fight mode. I don’t have any other mindset in life.
(Q) How has your life perspective changed since your battle with breast cancer?
(A) I feel like this battle with cancer has only solidified my beliefs and feelings about life, family, my purpose, humility, compassion, empathy, humanity and love. Being present… really present in each moment and conversation has intensified, and I’ve noticed how my connection with people affects me on a deep cellular level.
(Q) How do you view your cancer?
(A) I view it as an experience that I have to go through. I really don’t want to give it that much power over my thoughts and body.
(Q) What are things you used to worry about that you don’t anymore?
(A) I’m not a big worrier to begin with. I’ve always trusted in surrendering my circumstances and knowing that there is something I have to learn or go through in life. Worrying never helps, and it takes up so much positive energy that can be directed for my higher good and healing.
(Q) If you could go back and give your young self any advice knowing what you know now, what would you say?
(A) I would tell my younger self that I am worthy just as I am!
(Q) When it comes to health, how have you learned to listen to your body and follow that, over what other people are telling you to do?
(A) I’m still working on that. I have had a survival instinct my whole life and in some way this experience has reinforced that, but I’ve learned that stepping back, and being gentle with myself that resting and honoring my limitations is ok… it doesn’t make me weak. Cancer takes over your body and decides for you what you can and can’t do. You can’t overcome it immediately, nor can you ignore it or just power through it. Only by listening to my body, do I have the chance to be healthy and live my longest life possible.
(Q) How has cancer shaped what you now want to do with your life?
(A) I think it has made everything I’ve always wanted to do in life become a priority. Every excuse I have had not to do things for myself is automatically eliminated and it now becomes a thought process of, “I’m going to do these things.” It’s funny how easy it really is when your mindset has been through a life-threatening illness. You make it happen.
(Q) What do you want people to know about empathizing with those who are suffering from or who have suffered from cancer?
(A) It is very lonely. Those who are blessed to have family and friends to help mentally and emotionally still don’t understand that you are alone fighting. You are alone getting chemo and/or radiation, you’re alone lying in bed in pain and sleeping the days away. You’re alone in the thoughts and fears you experience and you are constantly being your own cheerleader… you can’t describe that to people.
(Q) What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve taken out of your healing?
(A) Being strong for myself. I’ve always been able to do that for others, sometimes to a fault, but realizing that I have to be strong for myself and that I deserve to be that for myself was a revelation. I have always been strong for others, but I think it made me channel my strength within myself, to figure out what my own needs are. It is not an option not to be strong, besides I can’t help others if I’m not taking care of myself first.
(Q) What’s been the most comforting healing mechanism for you?
(A) Realizing it is okay to lean on other people, I’ve become more open to allowing others do things for me and not feeling bad about it. I’ve realized it is ok to ask for help, and it’s important to surrender any thoughts of unworthiness that have ultimately caused the guilt I’ve felt in asking for help.
(Q) What did you learn about yourself through this?
(A) That it’s ok to be weak, scared, and vulnerable. It is okay to be honest with myself and with others, that at times I need help being strong and I need to lean on them for help.
(Q) What did you learn about others through this?
(A) That there is still a lot of fear surrounding a cancer diagnosis. I’ve noticed others work really hard to not let you see their fears because they don’t want to add stress to their loved ones. They seem to feel bad to talk about things that they are struggling with because they feel foolish for “complaining” about it when compared to cancer treatment.
(Q) What’s your advice to anyone reading this piece?
(A) Be honest about your fears, needs and what you are going through, because awareness is important and can also be comforting. Don’t be afraid to face uncomfortable situations that surface within yourself, whether it’s cancer, illness, or any negative life circumstance. The only way to get to the root of your adversity is spending time focusing on yourself and what your needs are to get through it. It is ok to ask questions, there is nothing to hide from in life… it all comes to the surface eventually. Even if we look fine on the outside we have so much going on the inside of our bodies that we can’t explain, often understand, or put words to. Release anything that doesn’t serve you and your highest good whether it’s negative people, negative emotions, or negative life circumstances. Negativity compiles and can be dangerous to your health more than you may realize. Don’t wait for a life-threatening illness to recognize your self-worth, the value of being truly present in life, and the importance of embodying a positive strong mindset.
Please click here until March 16th to support our stand against breast cancer! AMDWCC is 100% volunteer, so all of the proceeds go to supporting people like Molly.