“ I have learned that healing comes when you lean into things that inspire you and bring you joy. Remember you are not your cancer story. You are infinitely more than that.
Terri Wingham is a globe trotting mAss Kicker! After working in the corporate world, she was shockingly diagnosed with breast cancer and re-evaluated her life. Her passion lead to the creation of an international nonprofit A Fresh Chapter Alliance to take cancer survivors on adventures all over the world that benefit the local communities and re-energize each individual survivor’s post treatment “drive to thrive.” We were very fortunate to track her down and ask her a few questions.
mK: Hi Terri! Thanks for doing this. What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
TW: I was diagnosed with a triple negative/grade-3 breast cancer tumor in October 2009, but I learned that I had the BRCA1 gene mutation ten years previously. Thanks to close monitoring by the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver, BC, my cancer was caught early through a screening MRI and follow up biopsies. I was at a networking event for work when I got the call.
mK: Finding out is never easy. What were your symptoms?
TW: No symptoms at all. I was oblivious to the cancer growing in my body and continue to feel so blessed that close monitoring helped to catch such an aggressive cancer so early.
mK: Glad you caught it early! Why did you start “A Fresh Chapter”?
TW: I was searching for meaning and purpose in my life when I began writing my blog A Fresh Chapter. A year later, the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation (FCAF) was established to help other cancer survivors find new meaning and purpose post-diagnosis through volunteering and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Cancer took my former life and turned it on its head. Climbing the corporate ladder no longer seemed to fit. Instead, I wanted to make an impact on the world and help other patients and survivors heal emotionally.
mK: Very cool! Who are your heroes?
TW: The patients and survivors who have overcome incredible odds or who have died far too soon are my heroes. But, one of my mentors is Brene Brown – a writer, speaker, and researcher – she has helped me learn how to share my story vulnerably. Her definition of courage (from the latin word cour) is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. I believe that when we do that, true connections are built and isolation fades away.
mK: Stories need to be told! What motivates you?
TW: Helping people see fresh possibilities and discover new meaning, purpose, and connections in their lives. I also love to write, travel, and take photographs. There is something magical to me about using words and images to transport people to another place.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
TW: When I volunteered in Africa for six weeks (approximately 3 months after my final surgery). For the first time in a long time I was just Terri, not breast cancer patient/survivor Terri. The kids in my volunteer placement and my fellow volunteers had no expectations for me to be anyone other than who I was in that moment and it felt amazing.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
TW: I love laughing with old and new friends whether at funny movies or the ridiculous things we’ve done together. I cry when I lose a friend to this awful disease, and I’m angry that we are not doing more to support cancer awareness and treatment in the developing world. In many countries, cancer is almost always a death sentence. That’s wrong. It’s the same disease and we shouldn’t have a chance at a cure only if we are geographically blessed.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
TW: Giving up my home in Vancouver and taking a six-month volunteer trip around the world. I traveled to Vietnam, India, Rwanda, Tanzania, Spain, Peru, and Costa Rica and volunteered in each country so I could lay the groundwork for the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation. The people I met and what I learned about the world and myself will be with me forever.
mK: Pretty gutsy! What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
TW: The isolation and feelings of depression I experienced after treatment ended. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel more like celebrating or what my problem was. It was the decision to seek more inspiration in my life that led to a volunteer program in Africa and ultimately led to creating the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation.
mK: Changing gears… What is your guilty pleasure?
TW: A great glass of red wine. My latest favourite is an Argentinean Malbec.
mK: OK, here’s a random question to make you think… If you were a secret agent, and you had to change your accent to save your life… what would it be? Why?
TW: Irish. I have Irish roots and have always loved the accent.
mK: hee hee… “that’s magically delicious!” What do you like to do in your spare time?
TW: My work and my spare time seem to mesh together. I probably work too hard, but that work often involves doing things I love like writing and taking photographs. On a day off, I love to read and watch the sunset with my toes in the sand (whenever I’m in LA).
mK: What are you up to now?
TW: I’m about to kick off a 1 month trip to Africa where I will be evaluating potential program sites for Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation in Morocco and Tanzania, then I’m heading to New Delhi, India. I will be joined by our second group of 12 survivors who will fly from North America to India for a 2-week program of volunteering, cultural exchange, and a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Taj Mahal.
mK: Very cool! We wanna go next time! Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
TW: Each of us can only take it one step at a time. When you’re in the thick of treatment, you just need to do whatever it takes to gets you by. But, as you come out the other side of treatment and you’re faced with fear of recurrence or the loss of your former identity, I have learned that healing comes when you lean into things that inspire you and bring you joy. Remember you are not your cancer story. You are infinitely more than that.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
TW: I used to want to be an actress on Broadway. I took voice lessons for 7 years and have always loved music. Over the years, I’ve let this love fade away and my guitar (and my voice) have grown dusty from lack of use. When my life settles and I have a home again, I look forward to picking up my guitar and finding some time to reconnect with music.
Terri Wingham: retired actress/musician, world traveler, red wine enthusiast, International Irish Spy (Terri McWingham), and inspirational breast cancer thriver. Thanks for hanging out with us! We look forward to hearing more about your travels! Check out A Fresh Chapter Alliance! We’ll definitely keep an eye on you guys!