Shortly after her 25th birthday, Stephanie Madsen of Derailing My Diagnosis received news that changed her life forever — she was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer and given a less than 20% chance to survive. After four years, 55 chemotherapy treatments, 28 radiation sessions and four major surgeries, her perspective on life has been radically altered. “Believe it or not, she says, heaping amounts of good can come from a terminal diagnosis.”
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie. Learn more below about this beauty with a purpose whose mission is to inspire women around the world to thrive!
Q. Tell us more about how your triumph over cancer has changed you personally in a positive way.
A. Prior to my diagnosis, I was a twenty-five year old newlywed. My husband and I had our lives all mapped out. We planned to buy a home, have kids and live happily ever after. But when cancer entered the picture, everything changed. Once the dust settled, we realized the magnitude of our loss. Yet through the rubble of grief, we've discovered a joy so profound that now looking back over the last four years, we wouldn't change the journey in the slightest. Cancer has brought tremendous loss, pain, and suffering, but it's also brought immeasurable joy and gratitude as well. We live our lives differently—making sure to keep our priorities in the right order, and not get too wrapped up in the meaningless facets of life. We celebrate frequently, as each day is a gift. We love deeper and laugh often. We no longer run through life, we stroll, careful to observe and appreciate everything.
Q. You are taking over the world! From public speaking to writing for some of the top journals, what has been the highlight of your year so far?
A. While being on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” is quite incomparable, I can say that each opportunity is different and wonderful in its own way. From writing for multiple organizations and publications around the world, to speaking to survivors and hearing their stories of victory over cancer, every experience is treasured. However, solitary moments pale in comparison to the relationships I have gained by sharing my journey. Most people fighting this disease don't feel like they have a voice. The truth is, we each have a story that could profoundly impact and influence those around us. Though I have chosen to be public about my story to inspire others, my readers and viewers inspire me more than they know. The emails and messages I receive daily encourage me immensely. We aren't meant to live this life alone and our community is often far greater than we realize.
Q. If you could give a fellow Thriver any advice, what would it be?
A. Oftentimes I hear fellow thrivers express that cancer has immobilized them not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Though it feels like cancer has pressed the pause button on your life, know that your life isn't paused at all. These weeks, months, and years are all a part of your story. Stop waiting to be cancer-free to live the life you want. Your moment is now. There will be days that bring overwhelming sorrow. Allow yourself to cry, process and grieve. And when your tears have dried, pick yourself up and choose joy. Joy will not just happen to you. Unlike happiness, joy is not an emotion, but rather a conscious decision. Decide to be joyful despite your circumstances.
Q. What is one beauty tip you that you think the world should know about?
A. Beauty is redefined upon diagnosis. As women, our entire lives have been shaped by what the world says is beautiful. Cancer will either shackle you to the conformity of society's standards, or propel you to break through and transform your view. Our hair is not what makes us beautiful. Our size is not what makes us beautiful. I encourage women daily to look beyond the mirror to find their beauty. Your strength, courage, and determination is beautiful. Your kindness, compassion, and love is beautiful. Don't let your beauty be defined by what you have or don't have. Let it be defined instead by who you are. The greatest beauty tip I can share is do what makes you feel your best. For me, it's brows, lashes, and lipstick. When not a single hair remained on my body, I felt my best when I drew my eyebrows on, donned my Jackie Lashes by Thrive Causemetics, and added a hint of lip color. Simplicity is key.
Q. What is your favorite quote or mantra that you live by?
A. People follow your grief. Where are you going to lead them? You don't have to have a public stage to be on a platform. Whether your story is being viewed by your immediate family and friends, the community that surrounds you, or people from around the world, you have a voice. Have you ever seen someone so enveloped in their trauma that they have become bitter and angry? We've all seen someone overcome by the grip of grief and swallowed whole by sorrow. Some people often become so defined by their circumstance that they completely lose themselves in it. We have the opportunity to usher people into the freedom that hope provides. Let your joy be contagious. Lead people to hope.
Q. What is your ultimate dream, or are you living it now?
A. I once longed to someday be a stay at home mom with a white picket fence around a beautifully manicured lawn. Now, I want to unlock the gate and walk beside those who are trapped in their grief and circumstance. My dream is to continually inspire others to realize that they are more than their diagnosis. Cancer can cripple, yet hope can heal. No one should walk a journey alone. Through my chaos, I have been called into a purpose much greater than myself. The life I'm living is my dream. After four tremendously challenging battles against cancer, I am now fifteen months free of the disease. My life has been forever altered, and I am privileged to share my story. I continue to travel and speak to those fighting similar battles. I also share my heart as I write on my blog, derailingmydiagnosis.com. I'm currently working on my first book, and look forward to witnessing the lives it impacts. My husband and I have also begun our adoption journey and are excited to welcome the beautiful children that God places in our family. Life doesn't end upon a cancer diagnosis, it truly begins.