Join Leaha Mattinson and Greg Bird as they speak to Theresa Lewellyn about beating cancer twice, living in the moment and seizing the day.
12.52 – 12.59: “You really truly truly find who you want in your corner, who’s going to be behind you, in adversity more than you ever will in prosperity.” (Theresa)
24.39 – 24.43: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” (Greg)
29.58 – 30.04: “You get really dis-attached from the stuff that doesn’t matter when you’ve got a death sentence.” (Leaha)
32.58- 33.03: You can’t really choose what you’re made up of, but you can pick and choose how you react to it.” (Theresa)
28.28 – 28.34: “We all say it to ourselves – it’ll never happen to me, it’ll never happen to me, well, it happens.” (Theresa)
34.15 – 34.21: “When you’re faced with your own mortality, you don’t look to tomorrow, because you don’t know if you’re gonna make it through today.” (Theresa)
36.01 – 36.05: “Everybody takes time for granted because we think we have a lot of it.” (Theresa)
47.14 – 47.17: “There’s so many things that we can’t control but we can control our outlook on things.” (Theresa)
The diagnoses that changed everything (2.40)
Theresa used to be a bikini fitness competitor, placing 4th in nationals with plans to compete again the following year. On January 11, 2019, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since nobody in her family had had breast cancer, she was taken aback by this roadblock. She went through radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, losing her hair and breasts, but says it was also positive in that it allowed her to reevaluate her life.
She met the love of her life, Joey, at the end of the year at a breast cancer run. He proposed to her as the year turned to 2020, but 9 days later, she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, which had been undiagnosed because doctors had written it off as a side effect of her treatment. She felt waves of anger and sadness but did not want others to feel sorry for her. Her battle with colorectal cancer was far more difficult, but she beat them both.
Support from surprising places (8.30)
Joey had lost his grandmother to breast cancer and was there for Theresa every step of the way, even though he felt helpless. He was her punching bag, but she says that he sees the sorrow behind her smile, the love behind her anger, and the reason behind her silence. However, her mother not being there for her, even though she had lost her father to cancer, was very difficult for her to deal with. She was surprised by the ones who ended up standing by her.
Losing the genetic lottery (17.52)
Theresa’s father battled multiple myeloma for 9 years, but that is not hereditary. However, she learned from him the power of mind over matter and not slipping into victim mode. Colon and stomach cancer runs in her family, though. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she found out that she had the BRCA-2 gene which caused it in both her breasts and gave her colorectal cancer.
The importance of connection (20.15)
Theresa says her female friends were her biggest support. They would accompany her to every session of chemotherapy, and they made her laugh so much, they came to be known as the ‘really loud girls’. One of her female colleagues also told her that she would help Joey understand how to be there for her since he had come in halfway. Her brother, too, would video call her every morning to check on her.
Insure your future now (26.05)
Theresa got life insurance 9 years ago because she did not want to burden her parents with her expenses. However, she had refused critical illness insurance at the time because she thought she was healthy and worked out. After her diagnosis and the detection of her BRCA-2 gene, getting critical illness insurance would be unfeasible. She strongly recommends getting both life and critical illness insurance now, while you are healthy!
The changes cancer brings (33.19)
Theresa says she has changed in many ways after surviving cancer. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff and is able to walk away from things or people that don’t add value or meaning to her life. She has also learnt to live in the moment and takes life one day at a time, savouring each day she gets to be alive and well. She also does not define her life by any passion, and now, fitness is just one aspect of her life.
The things we take for granted (34.50)
Having cancer taught Theresa not to take things for granted. She says people take so much for granted – a sunny day, their health, and time. She realized how fleeting time can be when she was diagnosed, putting her life on hold during treatment while the rest of the world kept spinning. She urges us to be grateful for what we have and focusing on the positive in any situation, no matter how bad it may seem.
The illusion of control (46.40)
Theresa notes that as you age, you realize that you cannot control everything that happens in your life. However, you can control how you feel about what happens, and she recommends having a positive attitude and moving forward. “Life unfolds”, she philosophizes, “but you can’t have the rainbow without the rain”. Life may throw good things and bad things at you, but you can decide how you react to those.
The hope for the future (48.28)
Theresa wants to always be in the moment and make the most of it. She wants to celebrate all aspects of life, and never take it for granted. She wants to experience all sides of her partner, and cherish them. She says we don’t always get to see the bad side of people, but Joey saw her through her worst and saw her as she came out for the better from the long and difficult climb back to good health.
Own change with pride (51.13)
Theresa recommends sharing one’s story with honesty and straightforwardness, like when she shared her story on social media to inspire others. Colorectal cancer has left her with a colostomy bag for the rest of her life, and even though it was embarrassing for her, she accepts it as the consequence of an action that needed to be done. “It’s life, it’s what happens to you”, she remarks.
Continued contributions (54.50)
Theresa has volunteered to be a part of the AMBER study for breast cancer, wherein she will be monitored for 5 years. She had also been a part of a research committee on colorectal cancer, where they pressed the importance of correct diagnosis. She wants to educate others by sharing her journey and making her voice heard as an advocate of both breast and colorectal cancer.
Skydiving for cancer (56.48)
Theresa was inspired to downsize her life because she didn’t want to be so busy making money for everything she had that she didn’t have time to enjoy it. She decided to sell her house during her breast cancer treatment, which inspired her realtor to create an event for Kids Cancer Care called Jump For A Cure. They had their first event in 2020 and raised 7500 dollars, and plan to continue it every year.
Stay in touch! (58.10)
Theresa signs off with the lyrics of Head Above Water by Avril Lavigne, reminiscent of her battle with cancer. For more inspiration, follow Theresa Lewellyn on Facebook and Instagram. Also, check out the website for Kids Cancer Care, and see how you can help out!
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Master Your Life ~ Recovery Road Episode 7 ~ Conquering Cancer with Leaha Mattinson, Greg Bird and Theresa Lewellyn