Woman’s World Magazine Article – Becky’s Miracle – Her to-do list saved her life!
by Gine Conti of Woman’s World Magazine
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Being a success meant everything to Becky Olson. The 43-year-old mother of five had given up her dreams and time with her family to stay on top. But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer “I’ve missed so much!” she realized. Putting pen to paper, Becky composed a wish list of all the things she still hadn’t done. “Life is too short to waste!” she realized. And instead of worrying about dying, Becky started living.
With yet another glance at her watch, Becky Olson waited impatiently in the exam room for the nurse to return with her mammogram results.
Becky had purposely scheduled the test for 7:30, so she could get to her 9 a.m. sales call. Outside, the Beaverton, Oregon woman’s yellow sports car beckoned, its “PAGES” license plate a testament to the hard work she’d put in over six years of selling yellow pages ads.
Now, all the 43-year-old top seller wanted to do was zoom off to another long day. But… “The doctor wants two more tests,” the nurse said when she returned, “an ultrasound and X-rays.”
He found something! Becky realized. Her heart started to pound. Her head felt hot and light. And suddenly, getting to work no longer mattered.
“I’m sorry but you have breast cancer,” the doctor gently told her later in his office.
It can’t be! Becky tearfully gasped. But a biopsy confirmed his diagnosis and worse: the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Becky had only a 60% chance to survive five years.
“I wish I had better news,” the doctor uttered.
As fear closed in on her, Becky raggedly breathed, “I do too.”
But all the wishes in the world couldn’t make the cancer go away. Yet in the difficult days ahead, they’d give Becky hope to cling to, and a gift she hadn’t wished for… to see what was really important in her life.
“I’m going to die!” Becky wept to her husband, Bill, that night.
The couple’s older children, 23-year-old Tanya and 20-year-old Joshua, were facing important decisions about college and jobs. And the younger ones, 15-year-old Elizabeth, 13-year-old Elijah and Micah, 11, were in or entering the difficult teen years. They need me! Becky sobbed.
But as Becky took a leave of absence from work and underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, as her hair fell out and she became weak, despair descended. I’ll never see Elizabeth in her prom dress or Micah graduate from high school.
Becky had just returned to college to finish getting a degree, but that dream was shattered, too, when she quit to concentrate on her health.
Her family got her through the grueling treatments. They pitched in with chores. When she was sick from chemotherapy, Elijah gave her hugs. Elizabeth presented her with a poem about strength.
My angels! She breathed.
Then one morning, Becky rose early. She dressed, dabbed on some lipstick and tidied the bedroom before heading down to the kitchen.
Bill and the kids have done enough – now it’s my turn to save my life, she decided. And taking out a pen and paper, she began writing a list…
Ever since Becky could remember, she’d been a list maker. There’d been hundreds of lists: grocery lists, client lists flickering on the computer, lists of Christmas gifts. But this was different. This time, as Becky looked into her heart, she asked, What are my dreams? What’s still unfinished?
Things To Do… she scrawled across a sheet of paper, then paused as a lump formed in her throat… Before I Die.
Her pen flew. Get my college degree, she wrote without hesitating. Other wishes quickly followed: see Italy; build a library room filled with books; take singing lessons; give a speech; sing with a band; speak at my college graduation; visit Alaska…
When she finished… That’s funny, Becky realized, nothing on the list has to do with making money!
Regret welled up as Becky thought about her life before the diagnosis-the long hours away from her family, the fight to be number one.
I’ve missed what really matters! Her heart ached. And suddenly, she understood what was important in her life: love, knowledge, adventure.
But will I be here long enough to accomplish my goals? She shuddered.
“We have to have faith,” Bill comforted.
He’s right, Becky agreed. So instead of worrying about dying, she decided to focus on living.
She went back to school, “You’re doing great!” her family encouraged when Becky got A’s.
Still, a long road lay ahead. Tired of the stares her scarf-covered bald head brought in public, Becky dreaded going out. Then one day, her friend, Patricia, brought over a gift that her husband, Dennis, famous for his jokes, had ordered for her.
“I hope I don’t upset you,” she nervously told Becky as she pulled a baseball cap covered with bald-headed stick figures and the words “No Hair Day” printed on the front.
Becky felt her face go red. Alone in the bathroom, she pulled off her scarf and donned the cap. A grin crept across her face.
“I can do this!” she smiled.
When doctors lessened her chemotherapy, Becky was able to check a few things off her list. She took singing lessons. She bought shelves for the library. Wow! She thought. That’s two!
Soon… “Everything looks good,” doctors were telling her.
It’s working! Becky thought. My wish list is saving me!
And when the day came when doctors told her, “looks like the cancer is gone… ” Thank God! Becky wept.
Becky looked out the window. She saw a clear sky that seemed to stretch forever. The world is filled with infinite possibilities! She realized.
Thinking other women with breast cancer might benefit from a wish list, Becky and a friend (Sharon Henifin) started an online support group called Breast Friends, offering suggestions on ways to cope with cancer.
As her strength returned, Becky cooked for her family, laughed at movies with the kids and romped with the family dog, Gretchen. As the years passed… I’m still here! She rejoiced, taking pictures of Elizabeth in her prom gown and Micah at his graduation.
And she kept checking things off her list: trips to Italy and Alaska, a speech at a woman’s health fair (and many other events).
One year ago, Becky welcomed her first grandchild, Jenna, into the world.
And last spring, six years cancer-free, Becky checked three things off her wish list in one day. She received her college diploma, spoke at the graduation ceremony and belted out “Oh, Darlin’” along with the band at her party.
“I’m proud of you,” Bill told her. “You never gave up.”
“You and the kids wouldn’t let me,” she squeezed his hand. And as she fell asleep that night, Becky mentally added new wishes to her list. A tea party with Jenna. Publish a book. Stay in a bed-and-breakfast in Vermont with Bill when the leaves are falling.
It would be a list, she smiled gratefully, that would go on forever.
(story was edited by Woman’s World Magazine for style and dramatic effect, January 20, 2004 Edition)