There’s just something about Mary.
Not only is she a 20-year cancer warrior, with 11 reoccurrences under her belt, and Challenged Athletes Foundation cyclist (riding over 1,000 miles and raising thousands of dollars for the Foundation)—as Sr. Marketing Manager and all-around Amazing Woman, she is an inspiration to all of us who proudly call her a colleague and friend.
We caught up with Mary for a chat about what it was like to get her first diagnosis at the age of 17, fighting cancer with humor, and the Amazing Women in her life who have stood by her side throughout the years.
How did you begin to process your first cancer diagnosis at 17?
It was tough to get the diagnosis and news that I would lose my leg, but to be honest, I was more traumatized about losing my hair! I think it had a lot to do with my age. After I got through the initial shock, my only request was to get a prosthetic that enabled me to paint my toes. I don’t think they had many teenage girls coming through their office…
You’re an incredible warrior-survivor in your own right. So we have to ask: Who is an Amazing Woman in your life?
My mom is my rock. She has been instrumental in my recovery and journey. Through any surgery, she is there with me every step of the way, nursing me back to health. That’s just kind of how my mom is: she is a giver and a provider. My family has had some medical issues and tragedies, and she’s become our family nurse. She will do whatever it takes to get us better.
She keeps on keeping on, and leaves me no choice but to do the same.
When you’re at your lowest, is there a mantra or a prayer that uplifts you?
Yes, and these words to live by come from somebody in my life who I consider to be my second mom. I remember her just looking at me straight-faced soon after my initial diagnosis and she asked me, “Mary, how do you eat an elephant?”
I told her I had no idea. And then she told me, “You eat an elephant one bite at a time, and that’s what you’re going to do with this diagnosis. You’re going to take it one day at a time, and we’re going to get through it.”
Any time I’ve had a cancer reoccurrence, I just go back to this saying and I tell myself that I’ll tackle it one chunk at a time, and that somehow it will be OK.
What are some of the places that you’ve been to that have inspired you?
Riding the coast of California has really inspired me; not only is it beautiful, but it gives you such challenging terrain. I also got a chance to travel to Kenya and Burundi in Africa. While in Kenya, I visited several orphanages run by a friend, which exposed me to the most beautiful, uplifting kids. It was a life-changing, humbling experience for me to be around them.
Speaking of life-changing experiences–when did your perspective about cancer change?
There was a young lady I met a few years ago, she was nine years old at the time. She and her dad were guest speakers at the Challenged Athlete Foundation. I heard her speak after a long day of riding and was floored by how similar our stories were. Like me, she had a sarcoma in her leg. She was also focused on a singular sport (soccer, whereas I was a basketball player) and had an injury that wouldn’t go away until she couldn’t walk anymore. The “injury” turned out to be a tumor in her leg.
Sitting in the crowd and hearing her story was a turning point; it enabled me to truly grow from my own experiences [with cancer] by opening me up to the idea of using my disease as a way to connect more with my friends, to share more of myself with other people, instead of contracting. Before, I used to hide my prosthetic and wear long pants or skirts because I didn’t want to talk about it. But after hearing this little girl speak, something shifted.
Getting involved in cycling also changed me. I found the sport as an adult after my amputation, and riding has given me a huge boost of confidence that was somewhat lost after I was diagnosed.
How do Amazing Women support other Amazing Women, especially when they are cancer survivors or going through something difficult, like cancer?
I’ve always appreciated my friends and family keeping things normal. Of course, it’s nice to get that special treatment sometimes, but on a day-to-day basis, I just want things to stay normal because on my end, I am trying my best to normalize days that are often filled with doctors appointments, blood draws and chemotherapy.
Also, humor is the best medicine! During this last reoccurrence, I finally gave my tumor a name, “Betsy.” My friends and I had a lot of fun talking about Betsy and her eviction from my body. The laughter Betsy gave us turned the tumor into something else and gave it a kind of life outside of this looming cancer that was invading my body.
We even made Betsy bracelets and burned each one as a way to say good riddance. It was so satisfying.
What do you do for self-care?
The best self-care is getting on the bike, which is easier said than done sometimes. There’s also mani-pedis and the occasional massage. I also love the occasional retail therapy, of course.
We’re donating 10% of our Jewelry sales to the American Cancer Society throughout the month of May. Do you have any personal jewelry favorites from our recent collection?
I love a great hoop earring, and I’m really into these Large Gold Hoops. Lately, rose gold pieces are on heavy rotation in my jewelry lineup. I also love pairing these Tassel Earrings with a plain white tee or tank top now that the weather’s getting a little warmer.