By Cathy Liginski – In June of 2010, I was busy being a wife and mother when I was given news that would change my world as I knew it. I was blindsided by a second breast cancer diagnosis (The first diagnosis was 14 years earlier). Thankfully, both were caught early (stage 2 in 1996; stage 1 in 2010) by my being diligent and having yearly checkups and mammograms.
Since this was my second diagnosis, there was no doubt in my mind that I would have a double mastectomy. I had a young son and a husband (who needed me!), so I was going to do everything in my power to not have this happen to again. That would mean surgery, chemotherapy, Herceptin, and 5 years taking the drug Arimidex.
But my cancer story would take on an interesting and amazing twist.
While I was in the hospital, my husband read about a documentary feature film project called Life In A Day. Producers were asking people from all over the world to film their day on July 24, 2010 and send in their footage. This was an experimental documentary time capsule directed by Kevin McDonald (The Last King of Scotland) and produced by Ridley Scott documenting one day on Earth.
Everyday, we all share common bonds as human beings no matter where we live on this amazing planet.
July 24th, filming day, happened to be the day I came home from the hospital following the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. My husband Bob was hesitant about participating in the film project, but I reassured him that I was fine with documenting our personal day. I thought it sounded like an incredible project and right up his alley. (He’s a Video Editor/Producer). We thought it would be a great family project and something positive to focus on that day.
Neither of us realized at the time though, the positive impact it would have on our family. Our footage was chosen to be a central storyline in the film! We were flown to the Sundance Film Festival for the premiere, to Berlin Germany for the Berlinale Film Festival, and to London for the European premiere. Considering that we’d never been out of the country (and my son Bobby hadn’t been anywhere besides Wisconsin), it was beyond amazing for us to now be world travelers (and in a movie!)
Cathy and family with Director Kevin McDonald
During our film tour, we met many people who were impacted by our story of a family dealing with cancer. Many women approached us to thank us for sharing our story and they shared their cancer stories with us. The message of the movie was further evident to us when talking with families all over the world: Everyday, we all share common bonds as human beings no matter where we live on this amazing planet.
You just never know what’s around life’s corner!
Looking back at this time in my life, some very important life lessons come shining through for me:
1- Take care of yourself by having annual checkups and mammograms. It can save your life and is as easy as scheduling an appointment. I never skipped a yearly checkup and I get chills thinking about the “what if’s.”
… What if I didn’t have a breast exam in 1996 because I was only 37?
… What if I had decided not to see the surgeon after the doctor felt my lump and said ‘I’m not worried,” but I’d like you to see a surgeon.
… What if I had decided to skip my yearly mammogram in 2010 because I had been cancer free for 14 years?
… And what if I was just too busy being a mother?
2- Be your own advocate. If you think something doesn’t feel right or if you’re not happy with your doctor’s advice, seek out a second opinion. Go with your gut feeling because it’s telling you something important. I was blessed with incredible pro-active doctors but that’s not always the case. I’ve sat next to people during my chemotherapy treatments and listened to some heartbreaking stories in which people wish they had done just that. Listen to your heart and take action.
3- There is always a silver lining. Don’t let adversity stop you from living life to the fullest. We could have decided not to film our day, but we didn’t. We decided to keep living our lives by saying “yes,” and in return, our lives were enriched and immortalized by this incredible experience. Not only did it give us amazing memories of a lifetime, but it brought our family closer. And on a larger scale, we formed bonds with human beings all over the world—and had the time of our lives doing it! I am a cancer survivor. I traveled the world, met amazing people and walked a red carpet with my family at my side. When I heard the word cancer again in June 2010, I could have never imagined the positive things that were ahead of me… but isn’t that the amazing thing about life?