“You just don't know what's going to happen to you when you hear tough news like this. I felt complete panic for my kids. What would they do without a mother? In an instant, my heart broke as I envisioned what they’d have to endure going through life’s big "IF." – Stefanie Friedman
Stefanie Friedman is a mom of three, a breast cancer survivor, and was the queen of customer service at Whitney Howard Designs for over 5 years. She’s helped many of you create meaningful, one-of-a-kind jewelry through the Design Your Own program.
Gratitude never came easily to Stefanie – until breast cancer unexpectedly turned her into a gratitude warrior. Here’s her story.
Before cancer, were you an optimist or pessimist?
I like to think that I am an optimist, but to be honest, it's a struggle for me to be in a state of optimism. It depends on the day and the situation.
What do you remember about the day you learned you had breast cancer?
It was October 2015. I was standing by my desk here at the studio when my doctor called. Right after the doctor said, “it's cancer,” I told him to please stop talking so I could patch my husband into our call. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear anything the doctor said after that.
My doctor tried reassure me by saying things on the phone like, "don't worry," and "this will be taken care of.” But all I heard in my head was, "Girl, you better get your affairs in order cause we have no idea what this is!"
I sat in my car feeling paralyzed. Looking back, I wasn't very impressed with how I handled it, but I need to cut myself some slack. I thought that this was IT. The end.
I guess I’m not an optimist! ;)
How did Whitney and Howard take the news?
I first told Howard and he started to cry. (Newsflash: we cry a lot here – our customers email us each week with stories about how our products changed their lives. They’re an extension of us). He made sure I was taking care of myself and encouraged me to do whatever was needed for my health.
Then I told Whitney and surprise – she cried, too! Whitney and I cry watching puppy videos on Facebook in the office. We feel each other’s pain and joy and really care what’s going on in everyone’s life who works here.
What was the best advice you got from your medical team?
I had a great counselor who guided me through the treatment process. On our first call, I blabbed on and on about all the crap I was scared of. She simply said, “OK, Wes Craven. Are you done writing your own horror story?”
I knew right then that she was my person.
She told me a story that helped me avoid future tripping:
“Each morning when you wake up, visualize an imaginary suitcase and pack only what you need to get through that day.
When you come home at the end of the day, unpack that suitcase and fill it up again with only what you need for the next day. Everything else will drag you down or cause you unnecessary grief.”
The suitcase visual changed my life. It kept me calm each day – for two years. I still use this visual whenever “ordinary, everyday” stress creeps in.
Photo credit: Oleksandr Pidvalnyi
What advice do you have for other women going through cancer?
Take life one moment at a time. If you’re lucky enough to have someone to bring you to appointments, take them up on it.
But most of all, find something every day to be grateful for. Say it out loud. Share it with someone. Do this no matter what until it becomes a habit.
What’s your secret to staying grateful every day – even when life gets bananas?
I wear my GRATEFUL key every day. Before I walk out the door I put it around my neck, stop for a moment to think of one thing I am grateful for. And even when I am in a "mood" because that does happen, I can always find something to appreciate.
When it's hanging around your neck it's a constant reminder. And something to play with while you're sitting in traffic.
Stefanie wearing her beloved Grateful Key on a ball chain
How has gratitude changed you as a person?
Facing a disease can really piss you off and make you cranky! But once I knew my breast cancer was treatable, I started feeling "authentically grateful."
My perception shifted. I was so grateful to have another day with my family. I realized how much I’d complain: having to make lunches for my kids; struggling with a freezer that was too small; or getting annoyed at my phone every time it wasn’t working.
Now I know how lucky I am to be HERE. I appreciate the opportunity to make lunches for my kids. I LOVE my tiny freezer and, screw my phone! Put it down and be present.
I’m a much happier person around my kids. I’m conscious of when I feel peaceful during these moments and I am beyond grateful for that.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned I’m resilient and know how to find joy in simple moments. I learned to accept help when people offer.
You’ve given pieces to friends or family? Why?
The Gratitude Key is my go-to gift. I love gifting this. I always include a card that reads, "I’m giving this as a gift to show my gratitude to you but I also wanted you to have a constant reminder to help you remember to find something to be grateful for each day."
What else would you want other women to know?
Practicing gratitude is like meditation. A little bit each day starts to build up and you start believing it. It's comforting and healing. Oh, and get your boobies checked!