Survivor Stories: Leslie Haywood

Survivor Stories:
Leslie Haywood

How did you first find out you had cancer?

To answer that question fully, I have to go back a few years. My first introduction to breast cancer was in 1989 when at the tender age of 16 my 30 something year old parents sat my sisters and I down for “the talk”.  My mother had stage IV breast cancer.  The doctors told her she had six months to live.  In the months that followed, my parents along with their best friends stayed up nights and weekends and tried to figure out how my father, who was a master chief on nuclear submarines in the Navy, and only home six months out of the year was going to raise his 10-, 12- and 16-year-old daughters alone.

Fast forward to 2006.  I’m 34 years old with two daughters of my own and it was “that time of the year” to go get my annual mammogram.  But this year,  this year, something was “different”.  So they did the little needle biopsy and I got “the call”.  My doctor said, “The results are pretty surprising” and I stopped her right there and said. “not to me Lisa, it’s okay”.  You see, this was a battle I had been preparing for almost my whole life. 

How did you react when you heard the news? 

I was preparedMy mentor showed me years ago how to fight with all the strength, grace and dignity imaginable. It wasn’t long when the sentinel node biopsy showed that THIS cancer would not kill me.  We knew early on that I would not have to make plans for my daughters’ lives without a mother.  I think it was during this time that people started thinking I was in denial.  Here I was, diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34 with 1- and 3-year old daughters and yet I was truly the happiest women on earth. “You mean to tell me, Doc, that I have breast cancer and you didn’t give me an expiration date??!?!”  Non-terminal breast cancer.  What a precious precious gift!  (So many women are not that fortunate)

What course of treatment were you prescribed?

I feel that I really got off easy.  I actually feel guilty for calling myself a survivor.  I had a bilateral mastectomy and natural breast reconstruction.  I’ve got two brand new pieces parts (and let’s face it…. After nursing two babies, they weren’t much to write home about anyway), a bonus tuck and most importantly, I get to live!  I always viewed those things as B-sized ticking time bombs anyways, so good riddance.

What most surprised you about your treatment?

How wonderful everything turned out.

What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?

Live your life to it’s fullest and be thankful and grateful for every little gift you are given.

How long have you been cancer free?

Six years.

What lessons did you learn from the experience?

That the things I used to think were “devastating” are merely just blips on the radar.  I have learned to do more and that I need to do more to find a cure.  I am now extremely active in the efforts to find a cure.  I do what I can for my daughters and am crushed by the guilt of the genetic legacy that I have potentially left for them.  I have learned that I can make a difference.   I do what I do for the 527 women who get diagnosed TODAY and who are home right now, having “the talk”,  for the 110 women who fought the good fight and left this world today.  And for the thousands of miracles happening around us.  For the women who where given a death sentence and fought with all their hearts because they just refused to believe that they only had six months to live.  Women like my mother, who is 63 years old… and CANCER FREE!

If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?

Never give up, always have hope and be thankful for every moment.

Leslie Haywood is founder and President of charmed life products, inventor of Grill Charms™.  Leslie was a stay-at-home mom when a very spicy light bulb moment thrust her into the entrepreneurial ring.  During the start up phase of her company, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but still managed to launch her product on store shelves within 18 months.  Since then she has been featured numerous times on CNBC, various local and regional news programs as well as ABC’s prime time reality TV show Shark Tank.  Her story and product have publicized in such magazines as Everyday with Rachael Ray, Parenting magazine, Health magazine, Inventors Digest and many more.  All the while she is mindful of “the cause”, whether it’s giving back through “The Pink Collection” of her gift and grilling accessory “Grill Charms”, her work as Director at Large on the Komen LowCountry Board of Directors or her position as Honorary Chair for Race for the Cure.

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