07/29/2014 12:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Feelin' It: I Am Not My Diagnosis

Each day we have the chance to turn our challenges into something beautiful...

I am being treated for breast cancer. While it may be natural to shut down when going through this, I've chosen to open up, and have found healing in self-expression through art.

I hope that with this post, I can give voice to what others might be experiencing and feeling, give courage, and inspire toward inner healing, however you are feeling today, and wherever you are in this world.

Many thanks to my childhood friend Jesse Garza of Visual Therapy for encouraging me to share this message.


People have often asked me, "Are you an artist? What type of art do you do?" Having not considered myself an artist in the past, I was always surprised to hear this observation. After listening to what others saw in me and being encouraged by friends, I began writing poetry and doodling with no outcome in mind. I simply let it come to me. I discovered what was visually and emotionally inspiring. Before long, I was almost obsessed with writing poetry! I discovered pointillism, watercolor and began experimenting with nature photography.


Through the process of art there is an experience of inner and physical healing. More and more I am loving the finished product! I make it a practice to not "ditch" my efforts, thus validating the process rather than the outcome.

Cooking was probably the first artistic expression I discovered. "Alive" describes the feeling I have when I cook. I view recipes as a guideline and love working creatively from there and how satisfying it is when friends and family sit down and enjoy!


I flourish when I feel seen, known and loved for who I am. Communicating identity through style has become a cornerstone. As soon as someone sees me, I know they already have a sense of the "me" they will get to know.

For many years I did not feel I knew "who" I was. While growing to know and love the real me, I discovered my personal, eclectic style. Advice from my style-savvy friend Jesse, taking the style type quiz and "Nothing to Wear" book helped in the discovery process! Each day, when I look in the mirror, I make sure I see every aspect of ME, at my best.


One style inspiration was my grandmother Marie. She always looked polished and accessorized and wore heels till her dying day! She was one classy lady!

Knowing others see the real ME gives me enthusiastic confidence, so why not use clothes that empower me to achieve that? Being my most true self in every way each day is deeply affirming. I find I have a relaxed, confident openness. There is an element of feeling emotionally "hot!" Who wouldn't want to feel that way?!


I am working on a very exciting program for chemotherapy patients that I call "Openings." Those undergoing treatment will receive a big basket full of tiny boxes at their first chemotherapy session. There will be as many boxes as there are prescribed chemo sessions. The boxes will contain tiny whimsical surprises such as a piece of candy, a ring from a gum ball machine or a scrap of paper with words of encouragement. With each completed chemo session, a new box is opened. Each recipient can experience the anticipation of a little surprise and the benefit of seeing the number of boxes dwindle as progress is made toward the end of chemotherapy. My goal is to assemble an army of helpers and resources to broaden the scope -- I am shooting for the moon!


"Beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News ..." (Romans 10:15) Obviously, these are hands, not feet. This is my version of saying, "Beautiful are the hands of those who have cared for and will continue to care for me while I am being treated for breast cancer." Shown are photos of a highly skilled surgeon's hands, the hands of an oncologist, several pairs of nurse's hands and a medical assistant's hands. Each of these people have shown skill, kindness, care, and even love. I am grateful for these people and for their ministering hearts, intellects and hands. I feel blessed that these hands have touched my life.


As a cancer patient, I've found certain things that help me go through this process with grace. Here are my tricks:

1. Make the effort to love the way you look (with the help of makeup!). It never ceases to amaze me, even when I'm feeling rushed or "blah," what a difference a great look, eye liner, mascara and a pop of lipstick can do to boost everything.

2. Make a point to not use personal pronouns when addressing cancer and don't identify as a "cancer patient." I identify as Mary Alice, at her best. Cancer is something I am conquering, not something that I own or that owns me. I am not the diagnosis! For example, when I'm talking to someone, I don't say, "I have cancer." I say, "I am being treated for breast cancer." When I am talking about the surgery, I don't say, "When I had my mastectomy..." I say, "When I had THE mastectomy..." or, "... on the day of THE surgery..." If I'm telling my story, I make it a point NOT to use phrases like, "When I found out about 'my' cancer... " I don't even say, "When I found out that I have cancer..." Instead, I say, "When I heard the diagnosis..." or "When I found out I had a serious health issue to address..." I feel like by doing so, I do not allow the negative energy of "cancer" to invade my mind, my space or my energy. It is not allowed to be a part of me, because it is something that can be conquered and from which I can experience healing.

3. Learn to accept love, help, concern and generosity from others. Learn to ask for what you need. Friends are thrilled to be asked to come visit or help. By asking, we give. One friend recently joked that she felt selfish helping because it made her feel so good!

4. Determine for yourself and communicate to others what and how much input and information regarding your health works for you. Some people face challenges better with as much information as possible. Others cope by taking one step at a time. Both are valid coping mechanisms, but they are individual to each person. Ask yourself what works best for you and assert what you need.

5. Make the best of social media! I have been inspired by the social media project #100happydays -- I am approaching 250 of 100! Needless to say, looking for and seeing the "happy" in each day has become a habit. I plan to post "happy day" moments forever!




Give yourself, your whole heart. I once read the advice, "Don't be afraid to be the one who loves more." I have found tremendous freedom in practicing this.

Visual Therapy will be donating silk scarves to "Openings" on behalf of our clients; if you'd like to donate -- please email us with "Openings" in subject line: