the secret to joy

the secret to joy
the secret to joy

photography by: Marina del Castell

On Sunday, September 14th, 2014 Burn 60 will be joining Reimagine in an effort to fight women's cancer by raising money for cancer research and preventative care clinics through the Lynne Cohen Foundation's Kickin Cancer 5K.

More than 250,000 women are diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer every year and nearly 55,000 lose their battle with these illnesses annually. While these statistics are undoubtedly disheartening, there are countless women struggling to overcome them everyday.Mary Ann Wasil is one of these women.

After being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer 9 years ago, Mary Ann has worked hard to come to terms with her diagnosis and has managed to do so with an amazing grace and unyielding strength. She was kind and courageous enough to share her story with Reimagine and we are grateful for the opportunity to share it with you. We hope that you find it as encouraging as we did and urge you to share it with as many women as you can!

"My life is not going to be as long as I wish but that's not stopping me from appreciating it."


The Secret to Joy

by: Mary Ann Wasil

If I said you only had five minutes to live, would you spend even a single moment of those five minutes being unhappy?

I was first diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer nine years ago at age 39. During my fourth chemotherapy treatment I suffered a stroke, which required immediate heart surgery. Once recovered, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Seven years later I was diagnosed with a stage 4 recurrence of my breast cancer to my bones and my spine, requiring heavy-duty radiation and lifelong chemotherapy.

I will always be in treatment; I will never be cancer-free. And yet, the last two years have been the most wonderful years of my life. Believe it or not, I am the happiest person I know!

What’s my secret? I always “choose joy!”

Of course, choosing joy does not mean that I do not have moments of sadness, or even despair. What it means for me is that I do not reside in those moments. Although “visiting” is almost certainly unavoidable, I refuse to pack my bags and move into the “house of despair.” I call it “ABC out of sadness.” I walk into each moment of sadness and I A(cknowledge) it, B(less) it and C(arry) on.

Acknowledge it. Bless it. Carry on.

As often as I can, I try to enter into those moments with my eyes wide open. I do my best to see it coming and “brace myself” for the way the ground seems to move beneath my feet. I “acknowledge” the summer solstice, my kids’ birthdays, Christmas, a family get-together … wondering if this will this be the “last one” of any of these cherished moments.

I acknowledge my sadness, yes, but since these moments really may be the “last ones” for me and for my children, I do my very best to move quickly to the next step and bless this moment that I am in, choosing to see it as a holy and sacred moment, rather than as a sad one. Really, isn’t that how any of us prefer to see our lives and our most precious moments—as holy and sacred ones?

It doesn’t make the pain any less intense, but what it does allow is for me to have a great moment of clarity, a vision of how I want my loved ones to remember these moments, for how they remember me. And I can assure you I do not want anyone to remember a single moment of my life as “sad.”

Once I bless the moment and see it in all of its sacred glory, then, and only then, am I able to “carry on.”

Okay, so this is the thing my friends: I know my life is not going to be as long as I, or my loved ones, would like it to be. But I am going to make the most of every moment I do have, and my “secret” to doing this is not really a secret at all.

Thoreau said, “When a dog runs at you, whistle for him.”

When you feel sadness nipping at your heels, whistle for it. Look it in the eye and acknowledge its presence. Then bless it and carry on.

Mary Ann Wasil is the author of the recently published memoir A Diary of Healing: My Intense and Meaningful Life with Cancer (Hay House Publishing's Balboa Press). She is also the founder of the grassroots breast health global non-profit organization, The Get In Touch Foundation.


This story connects you to Reimagine's Inner Strengths course, one of the Seven Pillars in Reimagine's evidence-based curriculum. Learn more about Inner Strengths in the university here.


To donate to the Lynne Cohen Foundation or participate in the 13th Annual Kickin' Cancer 5K, visit our team page here.