Well Being

Breast Cancer Survivor Story: Connie Pombo

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Breast Cancer Survivor Story  Connie Pombo alloy default image jpg Today I’m going to share with you the personal breast cancer survivor story of Connie Pombo.

Connie recently shared how her life changed drastically on March 21, 1996 when she heard those fateful words, ‘you have cancer.’

It is my pleasure to share this survivor story with you. Everyone? Meet Connie Pombo:

“What did I do wrong? Those were the first words out of my mouth when I received the phone call from my surgeon. He said the words no woman wants to hear, ‘You have breast cancer.’ It was March 21, 1996. I was 40 years old and we had just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.

The following weeks were a blur of tests, more biopsies, second opinions, finally surgery, treatment and radiation. I worked full-time in the medical field and would radiate on my lunch break. I would announce my departure by saying, ‘Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go, can’t be late to radiate!’ On the outside, I kept up an ‘it’s okay’ facade, but inside there was a gnawing sense of fear I couldn’t escape. Would I ever wake up and cancer wouldn’t be the first thing on my mind?

It has almost been ten years since I heard those life-changing words, but it took a diagnosis of breast cancer for me to realize what I was truly passionate about. Shortly after being diagnosed I wrote down 27 things I always wanted to do: travel, take a photography course, write a book, plant a rose garden, and number 27: parachute out of an airplane!

One of my passionate “to do’s” was realized in November 2005 with the release of my book, Trading Ashes for Roses: From Pain to Passion. It’s the book, I always wanted to have when I was going through treatment and recovery. I wanted to say, ‘Here read this book, this is what I’m feeling, and this is how you can help.’ At the end of each chapter is a list of helpful do’s and don’ts for the survivor, caregiver, family and friends. After having received several ‘sympathy cards’ after being diagnosed, I included a section in the appendix on ‘What to Say and How to Say It!’

One of my ‘mentors in crisis’ was a nurse oncologist who said, ‘This isn’t the end of life — it’s just the beginning! Some women quit their jobs and start entirely new careers, they travel, go back to school — some even realize their passions! At the time, I was just hoping to remember how to breathe! But she was absolutely right. Cancer was the beginning of a totally new life!

Through the diagnosis of cancer, I discovered my passion. As part of my recovery process, I would take long walks and bring along my camera. I was shocked when I received the pictures back. I thought, did I really take those? Something happened — life was coming into sharper focus — I was seeing the world through a different lens. A photograph is a moment caught in time: that time, that place, that person will never exactly be the same again. And that’s what I wanted — more time! Time to enjoy the things of this life; time to see our boys through safe passage into adulthood; time to spend with family and friends, and I didn’t want to waste a moment of it!

I started giving my photo cards — ‘Cards by Connie’ — as gifts to those who had helped me through one of the most difficult times in my life. Shortly afterwards, I was asked to speak to civic groups, churches, and ministries about my story — ‘Living the Passionate Life,’ and how through my greatest pain I discovered my passion: photography!

Never having felt that public speaking was my forte — I was shocked when invitations were extended again and again to share my passionate story of survival. Soon afterwards, I founded Women’s Mentoring Ministries, to share with other women the joys of a mentoring relationship and to help organizations create mentoring programs. It was my way of giving back to those who had been so instrumental in my recovery.

Soon afterwards, I gave up my career in the medical profession to speak and write full-time and to share my passion with others. What I thought was the end of life, was merely just the beginning of a totally new life — one I never imagined! To be able to wake up each morning and to be passionate about what I’m doing is a gift — whether speaking, writing or taking pictures!

I am so thankful for the nurse oncologist who said, ‘Life will be good again!’ Do I think my reservoir of passionate “to-dos”; will ever be full? I certainly hope not — in fact, I’m depending on it!

Thank you, Connie, for showing us how life leads us down some interesting paths, unforeseeable paths, but paths that lead to greatness, even after a breast cancer diagnosis. And for teaching us to live passionately!

Tomorrow I’ll share some of the questions I had for Connie about life as a survivor. But today? Let me ask you this … do you live a passionate life? What are your passionate ‘to-dos’?

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(Image: from Connie Pombo)