Jan 28th, 2022
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A Cure in Sight is joined by Tanya Gibson, sharing her journey since being diagnosed in March 2021 with choroidal melanoma.
She summarizes her story below:
Cancer & Leadership
I remember the moment I knew that I was going to hear “you’ve got cancer”. It was the day after my doctor called me to tell me he was “worried”. Something in me, my inner knowing, took over after that phone call. I had the best sleep. I woke up rested and clear headed. I went to the computer and looked up everything he had told me. And I knew. I thought “Fuck. I’m going to find out I have cancer.” And just like that it was go time. I had just been given the opportunity to put into practice everything I had learned over the past 20 years about mindset, leadership, energy, emotional intelligence, health and healing. I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote “how do I want to experience this journey.”
I needed to be quiet for a while. I kept what I knew to myself, to protect my energy & mindset, until I was strong enough to handle other people’s experiences, fears and projections with cancer. You see, when people love you, their worries and fears can be dominant. I needed to be rock solid to handle that and not absorb it. I had to get my body ready for something it had never done before, go through 2 surgeries in a week. Nourishing it and ensuring it was as strong as possible. I was facing a new challenge. One I needed to lead myself through fully empowered, full of optimism and in full physical strength. I had to be unshakeable in holding MY vision of MY future. I needed to be unstoppable.
It all started in March 2021, at an annual eye exam, my eye doctor found something suspicious. He called me in the evening to say “I’m worried”. After 4 weeks of appointments, specialists, tests & hospitals, I was told the diagnosis, choroidal melanoma. I remember phrases as I was focusing on breathing. How did you end up here? We’ve never gotten one this small. It was caught early. Excellent prognosis. Radiation. Keep your eye. Risks. Ocular muscle. 90%. Sign here. Pre-op testing today. I was in a daze still trying to comprehend all that I was told as I was having x-rays and scans and blood tests to prepare for surgeries in 2 weeks. I left the hospital and walked for an hour processing everything I had been told. The bottom line was this was caught through an annual routine eye exam, before it had progressed to be symptomatic. I decided that I was expected to make a full recovery with this being a minor speed bump in life.
It was overwhelming. It didn’t feel real. It felt scary, AND it was great news. Considering what I had just been told, I was excited because it was the best outcome that was possible. THAT needed to be my focus. At the same time, I was equally exhausted, filled with so many emotions and I needed to cocoon. I wanted processing time. I needed to figure out how I was going to move through this experience.
In April, I had surgery for Brachytherapy, where a radiation plaque was placed on my eye, and another surgery to remove it a week later. My nephew concluded, in his 7-year old innocence, that I would have a bionic eye with special powers. I liked that and that is how I now think of it.
The surgeries went better than expected, leaving all muscles and nerves fully intact. It has been a journey since April, adjusting to life with a “bionic eye”. I have had challenges through recovery. I have spasms in my eye and shots of pain. I struggle with screen time. I was scared to drive and it has taken me quite a while to adjust to nighttime driving. My eye is sensitive to the light. I can wake up with tons of energy and need a nap 2 hours later as I fatigue easily. I am learning to live life differently with these challenges. Many people comment on the visual aspect that they see saying things like “you look so good” or “you can barely tell”, but what no one can see is how cancer changes you on the inside. And that has been the biggest journey of all!
I believe that what we put our attention on grows. While I have side effects, I don’t give them much attention or talk about them much. No one can truly understand what we each go through. But that is the same with everything in life. No two diagnosis are the same, no two divorces are the same, no two parenting experiences are the same. We are unique and therefore our experiences are unique to us. I am learning to live with the ways that I am different and work with that. I acknowledge how I am feeling, I honour the feelings, I give them space and I rest when I need to. But my main focus is on gratitude. I would rather put the attention on all of the things that I feel grateful for. My eyesight is fully intact. I get to see all the beauty that surrounds me. The tumour is controlled. I get to experience more in life as a result. My body has an incredible ability to heal and it is continuing to get stronger every day!
One of my core beliefs in life is that we get to create the life we desire. The things that happen to us in life are neither good or bad, but rather it is how we experience it that we end up defining as good or bad. We choose our response to the circumstances and that informs our experience. I honour the feelings I have, and I choose to move forward with gratitude and optimism.
Just 3 weeks prior to this diagnosis, I had completed a restructuring at work and was in my final months of my corporate job. I was ready to pursue a new career challenge with a focus on leadership. At the same time, the city I lived in, Toronto, Canada, was in a lockdown state due to the pandemic. The circumstances were less than ideal to receive a cancer diagnosis, but they were just circumstances.
It certainly felt like an overwhelming blow. It knocked the wind out of me, there were plenty of tears. But those beliefs I have rang loud and clear. I get to decide how I will experience this. I create the life I desire. It is up to me to choose my response to these circumstances.
During the time between diagnosis and prognosis, I sat and journaled on two main themes. I repeatedly wrote and reflected on one question “What if this were my last summer”. Once I was able to get through all of the tears and scary “what if” scenarios, I realized that no matter what, whether I had one summer left or sixty summers left, I wanted to experience it with fun, laughter and love. I wanted to live a valuable life with meaning and purpose. And that became part of my approach. The other thing I did was I wrote my obituary. I wrote it from the perspective of my 106 year old self, looking back on my life. I concluded that I wanted to be a youthful and energetic old lady at 106, with her beautiful eyes and eyesight intact, filled with love, and a sparkle and twinkle of curiosity and mischief in them. I wanted to be able to look back on this experience and know that I did something great with it.
Our circumstances don’t define us. It’s what we do with the circumstances that is truly defining. I had to look at this situation from the perspective of how I wanted to feel and what I can learn from this.
With these challenges I was facing, came the opportunity to strengthen my resolve and lead myself in new ways, to better prepare me for the future I desired to create and build and to gain clarity on the impact that I wanted to have. Ultimately, that is what leadership is. We are faced with challenges and we step up to figure out how to move through them and sometimes we inspire others along the way. We go first and pave a path for others to follow and have an easier journey. We lead by example to show others if we can do it, so can they. We remain optimistic, believing that no matter what, things will always work out, even during the toughest of times.
While it is important to have a plan in life, it is even more important to realize that things rarely happen how we plan. When we get hung up on what did or didn’t happen, we stay stuck. Our success comes not from the plan, but how we how we adapt, pivot and respond to the curveballs along the way. Our growth comes not from the results, but from taking a step back to reflect on the action we took and finding the lessons along the way. Our progression comes not from what we achieved, but from figuring out how we can raise the standard and do better next time.
I look back on the 2021 that I never imagined, yet feel proud at all I’ve overcome. I am incredibly excited to be stepping into each day, with a whole new perspective, a redefined vision with a bionic eye and even more leadership skills & lessons than before.
I had a 6 in 1 million chance of getting this. I had never heard of this type of cancer. It’s considered rare. My prognosis is incredible, thanks to early detection. I plan to exceed expectations and do it my way. I know this will be a story I will tell in my 100’s, letting everyone know how rare I am as I look at all of the beauty around me feeling so grateful for an incredible life, my gorgeous eyes and eyesight.
Remember, I create the life I desire!
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