How A Devastating Cancer Diagnosis Forced Me Into A Purpose Driven Life

October 28, 2022

By Shari Leid

Written For and Originally published in Your Tango on October 24, 2022.

I was 47 years old when I heard the words that one in 8 women will hear during her lifetime: “I am sorry, the results are positive. You have breast cancer.” This was in October of 2018. My kids were in high school; my youngest was only 15 years old at the time.

I was busy being the mom-taxi, making dinners for my family while trying to fit exercise and social time with girlfriends in between family commitments. My life was satisfying but filled with a lot of routine without thought to how I uniquely wanted to show up in the world. In other words, I lacked a sense of purpose and meaningful contribution.

I found myself not only feeling the overwhelming weight of receiving a cancer diagnosis, which included making treatment decisions and worries about the future; but also, I found myself looking at my life as a gift in a way that I had never felt before. Time became a precious commodity, and suddenly that time had to be lived filled with purpose.   

I began to journal. It was the first time in my life that I took time each day to explore my thoughts and feelings not just about cancer, but also exploring who I am: my fears, my dreams, and areas in my life that I felt I could improve on.

As I journaled, I began to see a pattern of themes emerge.

The most prevalent pressing theme for me was letting go of judgment. Letting go of judgment of others and how judgment by others affected me.

I realized for me to live a life that made the impact I wanted to have in the world, I had to let go of the ego that prevented me from understanding what my unique value in this world is and not be afraid to move forward to effectuate my purpose on this earth with the time I’ve been gifted.

During this time of introspection, I came across what has now become my favorite quote. It is in the form of a question: “If today were the last day of your life, would you be doing what you are doing now?”

I think of this question quite often, especially when I’m not showing up as what I deem my best self.

I shifted where I place my attention and became purposeful with what I was putting into my body. Not just when it came to food and nutrients, but also to what I was absorbing mentally and emotionally. I started listening to podcasts and reading books that focused on human triumph over adversity.

Truth be told, before my diagnosis, I was a true crime junkie, loved tabloid gossip, and spent all my mom’s taxi time on social media while I waited in my car during kid pick-ups. Neither fed my soul nor was a place that I wished to focus my attention on any longer.

As I journaled and took time to figure out what I have to offer the world, I came to believe that we are all uniquely placed on this earth. When I let go of my fear of judgment and judgment in general, I became comfortable being my unique self and accepted that cancer was a part of my journey along with the other twists and turns life has thrown my way.

Simply put, I gave myself permission to be myself.

I stopped comparing myself to others or thinking that I was any less able than someone else. I realized that I, just like anyone else, have the power to walk into a room and positively change the energy of that room.

I began thinking about the people I looked up to and realized that the common trait they shared was that they aren’t afraid to be their authentic selves.

I decided to draft a mission statement for my life, much like a business would do — defining why it exists and what its purpose is.

My mission statement now sits on my bedside. I had it printed on a plaque. It is the first thing that I read every morning:

I am a forever student of life, placed on this earth to learn from every experience and every person that I come across. I strive to be a knowledgeable and kind human being. I will not waste an opportunity to be a friend and I am grateful for every connection that comes my way. I want to be remembered for being fair, smart, kind, funny, and compassionate – moving through the world with grace and dignity. I strive to be a leader at home and in my community, to make the world a better place by lifting one person at a time.

The work that I’ve chosen to devote my life to as a writer and life coach for women who are in their middle-aged years doesn’t feel like work.

It is not a career that I want to take a vacation from because it aligns with what I believe my unique gifts and talents are and furthers what I know my purpose is for being on this earth. Cancer gave me a life that I don’t waste being idle or with things that don’t align with what I’ve defined as my mission.

As of January 2023, I hope to announce that I am five years of no evidence of disease, which means over five years of living a life filled with purpose.

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