This story is about how a girl stayed alive.
It begins a few years ago when the financial crisis hit and my world fell apart. I abandoned all desires to pursue my passions in doing something creative and stuck with what I had proven I was good at -- finance.
As time went on, I could feel myself suffocating from fear of unemployment and bitterness of not fulfilling my potential. The doing, undoing and redoing of financial models for acquisitions, which once excited me, had since turned into acts I loathed.
Then, last year, a friend told me about Megan Roberts, a successful 27-year-old U.S. diplomat posted in Albania, advising negotiations and kicking ass at it. I felt a pang of regret mixed with envy. Here was someone, only two years older than me, following her passions. What happened to me? I used to be so ambitious. Nothing could stop me then. I even relished in the unknown, which was why I chose banking though my background was in history.
Now, I spent my days wallowing in self-pity, going through the motions like a cog in a slowly dying machine -- a cog that had become dispensable.
When I heard Megan had returned in April, I felt a spark ignite. I could finally ask her how it felt to do what she loved. I mustered enough courage to reach out, but it was bad timing.
She had returned because she had been diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, an aggressive cancer so rare that only six other cases in the entire English-speaking world existed.
I felt shocked. From what I knew, Megan had a healthy diet and exercised regularly. She was so vivacious, always smiling in her photos. She had a whole life ahead of her. How could she get cancer? What about the things she had yet to explore? The people she had yet to meet?
Suddenly, I saw the inevitable question flash before me: What if this happened to me?
I was scared to answer it, so I buried the thought.
Six months later, I learned Megan had beaten cancer. I felt relieved, like if she could do that, then I could, at least, do something I wanted, and right then, I wanted to write her story.
When I interviewed her, I could hear the exuberance in her voice. Must be because her results came back clean, I thought. However, the more we talked, the more I realized this infectious optimism was just her.
She recounted being in Albania and dealing with agonizing stomach pains for six months. Then, when she sought treatment, she found out she had cancer. It didn't faze her though. "I will destroy this gremlin [cancer]!" she declared.
She remained confident... until the doctors informed her chemo could affect her fertility. That was when she broke down.
I asked her why then. Why not when the doctors told her the cancer was aggressive? Or when they needed to protect her brain by injecting chemo into her spine -- an excruciatingly painful procedure?
She revealed how the fear stemmed from regret. Up to that point, she had none. She had supportive family and friends and a career she loved. Plus, she knew she would win against cancer. This news, however, meant she might not have children.
But Megan was a fighter. She didn't allow herself to fear the unknown and regret a possibility. She reminded herself this was only a challenge. She would find a solution once she beat cancer. So she fought through nauseating chemo sessions and painful spinal injections while still living her life and maintaining her high spirit.
As we talked about how she didn't change, it hit me. This ordeal didn't change her; it changed me! I finally understood how she could remain the upbeat, ambitious, and fun-loving girl she has always been even during her darkest hours. I finally knew why she chopped off her own blonde hair and rocked a blue wig even before the chemo started.
It was because she was about living life and pursuing dreams, regardless of the challenges that stood in her way. She wanted to kick cancer's ass, not the other way around.
Inspired, I shed all my regrets and gathered my dreams. I hesitated at first, then and each time I felt scared, I would think back to my conversations with Megan and feel confident once more.
So, in a few short months, I tapped into my creative side by getting a high-profile marketing job and an opportunity to write for The Huffington Post.
As I said, this story is about a girl who stayed alive. That girl was Megan. But in a way, it was also me. Megan and her story helped me feel alive again.