|Wendy Harpham, MD|
Given her dreams, she wouldn’t have coined the phrase “healthy survivorship” either, or been the author of several best -selling books on the topic. And the appearances on Oprah or the Today Show? Those weren’t on the agenda in l983 when she obtained her life’s dream and opened a solo practise in internal medicine.
Like the survivors gathered this weekend for Life Beyond Cancer’s 10th Annual Survivorship Retreat in Austin, Wendy Harpham didn’t have cancer on the agenda. But this is how it happens to thousands of people diagnosed with cancer every day. Like that, your life changes.
Just seven years after opening her practice, and by then the mother of three young children, Wendy was diagnosed with a Stage III non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She was 36. Disease at this stage is not curable.
As a physician she understood the odds and the challenges.
As a woman, as a wife and mother, she faced them. Seven different recurrences. From the repeated courses of chemotherapy and resulting illnesses came the heart-breaking, but necessary, decision to close her practise. Cancer made managing a busy office impossible. Careful management of her energy was essential. This is how her talk this morning “happiness in a storm” holds such depth.
“It’s important to separate expectations and hope," she said. "Hopefully accepting the likely outcome while hoping for the best possible outcome. While I could expect that my cancer might recur, I could still hope to live as fully as possible.”
When I spoke with Wendy by phone about a month ago one of the first things that I noticed about her is the strength – not just the sound –of her voice. In her photos, she is petite, with a beautiful ivory complexion and deep blue eyes. But make no mistake, her strength, calm confidence and intelligence come through loud and clear, especially when I asked her what she tells newly diagnosed women with cancer.
“Cancer is not a death sentence, “ she said. “Cancer is an illness that is treatable. Obtain sound knowledge, nourish your hope, and act effectively.”
The physician speaks. And the survivor knows. “You have to use all your strengths as a woman to become a healthy survivor."
More about Wendy and the gifts she brings to the survivorship community will come.
All of us here at the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat have affirmed: she's our new best friend.