How did you first find out you had cancer?
I felt a lump in my left breast at age 37. I thought, “Has that always been there?” I asked my husband to feel it and he was alarmed, insisting I go to the doctor the very next day. I thought he was overreacting, but I promised him I would go. The ensuing mammogram said there was a lump, yes, but it was “normal.” Despite no history in my family, my primary doctor nonetheless recommended I see a surgeon, who recommended biopsy. Through it all, I was totally convinced it was nothing.
How did you react when you heard the news?
When the doctor called with the results of the biopsy and said, “I’m sorry, it’s cancer,” I was terrified, devastated, and disoriented. Right after I hung up the phone with the doctor, I called my husband, Brad, who went into commando mode and said he was coming right home. Then I called my dad. I couldn’t get the word cancer out of my mouth when I talked to him. I stuttered on the c in and could not say the full word. I just said, “Dad, it’s c-c-c-c-c-c-c” and then I started sobbing uncontrollably. He came right over, too.
The third call I made was to my law firm where I worked as an attorney. I had been an attorney for 13 years, outwardly successful but feeling like the stress of the job was making me sick. I had always dreamed of following more creative pursuits like singing and songwriting and writing. The very day I was diagnosed, I quit my law job. Among the many feelings I had that day—terror being pretty extremely high on the list—I also felt an overwhelming sense of relief, too. I felt a sense of permission to start living the life I was meant to live. I actually felt sort of exhilarated by the sudden sense of total freedom, like now I could do whatever I really wanted to do, and who could tell me “no”?
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I had a lumpectomy followed by eight cycles of very aggressive chemotherapy and 33 days of radiation. My treatment spanned October 2008 to the middle of 2009.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
There were many, many hard days, but I was surprised that the real me was not totally gone during that period. Although I lost my hair, lashes, brows, etc. and was pretty scrawny by the end, I still felt like me on the inside. I still wanted to laugh. I still wanted to write songs. I was surprised to learn that, no matter what the outward circumstances, life is still meant to be lived and cherished, no matter what. Pity parties are an absolute waste of time. I was surprised to realize that life is still beautiful, even in the midst of pain.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Accept help. You can’t do it all. People want to help. Let them. Express gratitude easily and often, but accept the love pouring in to you. Also, take it day by day. I am not a real platitude lover, but this one is a good one. If you look at the entire mountain yawning before you, it is too overwhelming. So, just do what you must do today. And if you are feeling well today, be you. Make the most of it. The bad days will pass, so don’t lose faith in that.
How long have you been cancer free?
I was diagnosed on October 10, 2008. It’s been three plus years since the end of all my treatments. Knock on wood, still free and clear.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I could write an entire book about the lessons I learned from this amazing and awful and scary and life-altering and life-affirming experience! And so, I did. My very first book is called Rocking the Pink. I learned on a whole new level that I love my family more than life itself, and that love (in all its forms) is all there is worth living for. I learned I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.
I learned I’m going to die. Whether from cancer or not, I will die. It became very real to me. And, in light of this epiphany, I figured out I’d better start creating an authentic and fulfilling life, a life that maximizes who I am and what I was created to do. What an insult to this miracle called life if I go out without having lived the absolute best life I can. I didn’t want to just half-ass it, and then, poof, I’m gone. So, I learned that if I want to achieve my Plan A, I cannot have a Plan B or else it’s just too easy to give up. I learned to go for it. And never, ever, ever give up.
I learned that people shouldn’t wait for a cancer diagnosis to start living their life in earnest! You don’t need a cancer diagnosis to start listening to your inner voice, to start living an authentic life, the life you know in your heart of hearts you should be living. That’s the main message of my book. Do it now!
I learned to express love and gratitude easily, often, and sincerely. I learned not to sweat the small stuff, to accept others as best I can, and to realize that we’re all doing our best. Life is going to throw pain and hardship at all of us, at some time or another, and everyone is just doing their best to make it in this world – cancer or no. I learned to be more compassionate, and empathetic. And kind.
I learned that nothing is impossible.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Do not ignore your inner voice! You know what it’s been whispering (or yelling in your ear). Listen! Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. And be honest with yourself, and others about who you really are, who you are meant to be. Everything else will fall into place. Please don’t wait for a cancer diagnosis to start living your life in earnest! And,if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, then come on, honey! What are you waiting for? Really, my message is contained in the music video for my song, “I’m Still Here,” on my website. It says everything I want to say about living life fully!
Laura Roppé is a former attorney turned award-winning singer-songwriter, author, and speaker who lives in San Diego with her husband, two daughters, and dog (Buster). In 2011, Billboard Magazine ranked her No. 5 on its “Best of 2011” list of the Top 50 “uncharted” artists of the year. Her book, Rocking the Pink, is available in all bookstores.