As you visit these pages and learn more about The DON'T WAIT Project®, Big Shoes and my story, know that I'm grateful you're here. It's always my hope that my family's story will speak to your heart and help create a space of empathy for others and gratitude for life and its lessons.
The turning point in my own story began when I received my first typewriter as a Christmas gift from my parents when I was eight years old. I'd recently watched the movie Rocky, and inspired by the story and Sylvester Stallone's determination as its storyteller, I set a goal of becoming a writer and worked diligently at honing my craft.
I met Wesley the same year, and something told me he would become important to my life. We married when I was 22, I was diagnosed with cancer at 24, and we had our son two years after cancer despite the risk of infertility from the treatments that helped save my life. The same body that had created something as horrible as cancer, had healed and now created a human life. This discovery helped heal me. And even more than the reason I survived, our son is the reason I was born.
The week before our son's fourth birthday, on an ordinary Saturday morning, Wesley cleaned out an old cabinet in our garage, and inside, there was mold, droppings and a bag of fertilizer that was soaking wet but should've been dry.
He immediately complained of shortness of breath, which led to a hospital stay a month later and eight more that year. Exactly one year to the day of him cleaning out that cabinet, he received a double-lung transplant.
When Wesley died six weeks after his transplant, at the age of 35, I didn't know who I was without him. I didn't know how to navigate my life as a widowed single mother.
But I did know one thing for sure: there had to be a really big reason for Wesley leaving the planet, and it was my job as our son's mother to help bring to fruition whatever greatness could come to our lives, not in spite of losing Wesley but because of losing him.
Over the past 10 years, I've interviewed more than 1,000 people, and I've discovered that our values help determine our priorities and our priorities help tell our story.
I call these DON'T WAIT stories, the nouns in life: the people, places, things and ideas that we give up on along the way sometimes⏤for whatever reason. We get too tired, too busy, too sad or even too comfortable. The DON'T WAIT Project® is a reminder to live the nouns, no matter the obstacles.
I couldn't have known that the medical events in my life would lead to a career as an author, inspirational speaker and a patient advocate educator.
Had I not learned about effective patient communication, coupled with what I've termed as Empathetic Healthcare Practices™, I wouldn't have known how to intervene and help change the outcome of my mother's uncertain fate when she was misdiagnosed with a fatal illness or teach our dad how to lead her care in the months ahead as she faced setbacks along her complicated path to a full recovery.
It's true that much of what I've experienced has been painful and tragic, but I've also experienced joy and fulfillment.
I've raised a wonderful son who is now a grown man who recently graduated college and is thriving. I've got some cool stories about a pillow company I started from my dining room table that led to a sweet deal on the hit TV show Friends and now the song I co-wrote with David Santos called This Beautiful Life.
I've also written two books, so far, that don't pay the bills, but they seem to help the people who dedicate their time to reading my family's story.
My only professional goal after becoming a widowed single mother was creating opportunities that helped me feed my kid and feed my soul and enabled me to be home by 3 o'clock everyday when our son got home from school.
I haven't built a career based on hardship, I've built a life based on the lessons these hardships have taught me.
I believe that hardships are opportunities for crossroads, not impasses. And I have always been willing to lend my story if it helps someone else better live their own.
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