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Conquering Cancer: 'Surviving This Helped Me Find Purpose'

A reader shares how she rebuilt her life after beating breast cancer.

Throughout my life, I’d always exercised and kept my body in shape. I’d always eaten right for the most part. I have no family history of cancer.

And yet none of these factors kept me from being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 42.

Surviving breast cancer is a difficult, life-changing event—for anyone. Personally, I underwent a partial mastectomy, a lymph node dissection, 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation. I now have clinically disabling lymphedema (persistent swelling) of my right arm and hand. But the most difficult part of surviving breast cancer was losing my mom while I was undergoing chemotherapy. My best friend, my voice of reason and the person who could always help me find the answers to any problem, was no longer here. My mom was gone and I was alone. Weeks before my mom died, I was also diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that was potentially life threatening and not surgically correctable. Coming so close to death caused me to see that although I had spent my life helping thousands of patients and their families in this country and abroad, I merely existed.

I began searching for the higher purpose in my life. My lymphedema had affected my ability to continue in my profession as a physician since I could no longer safely care for my patients due to the swelling in my hand. My boss at the time called me into his office and said, “A physician who is not clinically capable is of no value to me.” My heart sank. My life’s dream seemed to be coming to an end after 18 years of service. I had two teenage daughters who wanted to go to college—how could I afford to send them without a job? I was a doctor; I didn’t know how to be anything else. I spent my entire life preparing, becoming and practicing as a physician. Helping people became “what I did.”

After months of physical therapy and struggling with depression, I found myself getting angry. Angry at being told that through my short lifetime of struggles that I had no value.

But I’m alive and cancer-free for a reason. And I’m meant to be part of the solution. Since my diagnosis, I have chosen to LIVE—to Love myself and others, to Inspire those around me, to Voice my dreams and ambitions, and to Enjoy life!

In 2010, I participated in the Susan G. Komen Chicago 3-Day for the Cure event. At the end of the event, I knew I’d found my calling. I was meant to help change lives on a national scale. I could share my story, share my voice, share my life and share my victory with thousands of others that needed help. I am now honored to represent the Susan G. Komen 3-Day as one of the organization’s National Spokespersons. This role affords me the opportunity to raise awareness and educate thousands of women and men throughout the country about breast health and how they can join in the fight to end breast cancer.

I went from being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and disabled from lymphedema in 2010, to being the Susan G. Komen 3-Day National Spokesperson in 2011… now that’s living! I’m also blessed to now have my own healthcare consulting business. I’m grateful that my remarkable story of pain, loss and change has inspired tens of thousands of people across the country. My mission is to continue to inspire others not only by my words, but by living them every day. Through my journey I learned that by showing others their value, I have rediscovered my own.

Dr. Sheri Phillips is a board certified occupational medicine physician, breast cancer survivor and the founder of S. Phillips Consulting, where she offers enrichment and rehabilitative programs to help individuals unlock their potential. Follow her on Facebook to keep up with her work for Susan G. Komen.