Marye-Elizabeth Leslie

It was a beautiful Friday afternoon in June of 2014; Marye-Elizabeth was enjoying the Portland scenery after recently moving from Seattle when she received a call that flipped her world upside down. Marye-Elizabeth was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

“This is it. I’m done,” she thought.

She had just moved to a new town and recently lost a beloved friend; Mary-Elizabeth recalls the overwhelming and unsettling feeling that she had never been more alone.

Days later, she received a call from her physician – Marye-Elizabeth didn’t want to answer out of fear for what else could be said. Upon answering, the physician asked her to come into their office. Reluctantly, she went in to visit with her new surgeon. To her surprise – a very relieving surprise – the doctor admitted they made a mistake on the diagnosis and that she did not have stage 4 breast cancer. In fact, it was stage 2. Marye-Elizabeth was overcome with relief and the dark place she was in, lit up like a string of twinkle lights. It was in that moment that Marye-Elizabeth truly appreciated the fragility and beauty of life.

Although a much better diagnosis, Marye-Elizabeth’s treatment was far from easy. In August of 2014, Marye-Elizabeth had a partial mastectomy and frozen shoulder to follow. She had a short stint of chemotherapy and within 3 days, she lost all her hair.

“I was running my hands through my hair, looked down, and had a hand full of it,” she reflected. “I hid behind wigs and acted like everything was normal.”

Since chemotherapy, Marye-Elizabeth has dealt with acute rheumatoid arthritis and asthma; however, she makes sure to “appreciate all things and be able to move forward with a heart of gratitude and joyfulness instead of a heart of hatred and despise. Sometimes I do get frustrated because I have acquired a weight problem since chemotherapy, but the bottom line is, I’m living.”

Marye-Elizabeth advises anyone battling breast cancer (or anyone in general) to journal.

“[Journaling] changed the trajectory of where my life went and where I want to go,” she said. “You may not be feeling positive, but if you can get your emotions out from within and put it out there—on paper or whatever…it gives you a way to release your emotions at that moment.”

Beyond journaling, Marye-Elizabeth found relief on the water by joining the Pink Phoenix Dragon Boat Team. With over 100 breast cancer survivors, the team symbolizes rebirth and renewal.

“When you’re on the river, you leave your worries behind and focus on what you can do at that moment,” she said. “Being on the boat gives such freedom. [Breast cancer] could be perceived as the worst thing that happened to me, but I did find joy in my journey.”

Concluding, Marye-Elizabeth asked “what is normal?”

‘Normal’ is unique to every single one of us. To hear more about what Marye-Elizabeth’s ‘normal’ is, be sure to check out her book ‘Beyond Courage: Finding Joy in the Journey’ coming to a bookstore near you.