Beyond Face Value

The insecurity and insight that come from cancer's battle scars. 

BY TERRY HEALEY
PUBLISHED: DECEMBER 22, 2009
At age 20, my life was smooth sailing. I was a junior at the University of California, Berkeley, a confident, athletic, successful student. Some even considered me handsome. I was living life on “easy street.”

We all wrestle with insecurity. For me, it took something devastating to recognize that battle scars make people interesting and wise; trauma helps us appreciate life and prepares us for its inevitable adversities. Today, I am thankful for who I am—a much stronger and wiser person than the old Terry. I am grateful for my experience because I appreciate every day of my life, and I am more forgiving and tolerant than ever before. What I learned I hope to teach others:

> Each of us has the ability to take control of our lives. We have to learn to focus on what we can control, and stop worrying about what we cannot control.  

> We owe it to ourselves to be surrounded by people we trust. Without trusting my family, friends, and medical team, I wouldn’t have had the positive attitude necessary to carry on. 

> We can all face our challenges, but we need to focus on the most pressing issues, so we don’t get overwhelmed with all that we want to improve about ourselves.

> And finally, we need to be aware, alert, attentive, and more accepting of one another, because we never know in life who or what will impact our lives and inspire us to achieve things we never thought possible.

I remain cancer-free 23 years after treatment. I published a book about my triumph in 2006 called At Face Value: My Triumph Over a Disfiguring Cancer. I am also a motivational speaker, and, though my primary business is consulting, speaking has proven to be the most therapeutic part of my recovery. I learned a lot at a very young age and am grateful for those gifts and lessons that I hope I can communicate to people faced with challenges and adversity in their own lives. 

Terry Healey is a technology marketing strategy consultant. Learn more at www.terryhealey.com.

But that year, several people asked if something was wrong with my nose. My right nostril appeared to be flared out, and I eventually noticed a bump pushing against the inside of my right nostril. When it didn’t go away, I made an appointment with a doctor. After initially telling me it was probably a pimple, he finally suggested a biopsy when it was still there three weeks later.

It turned out that I had a malignant maxillary tumor, a rare fibrosarcoma. I would later discover how lucky I was that I got the right diagnosis given how few of these tumors pathologists see. The bulk of the tumor was removed during the biopsy, but I underwent surgery to excise any remaining tumor cells. Fortunately, the procedure was minor, and, with only a few sutures, I returned to classes looking like I had been in a fight with someone, not something.

But six months later, I discovered a new lump in the same nostril. Then my cheek began tingling. Numerous specialists confirmed that my tumor had spread. Prescribing more surgery, my doctor warned that I might lose part of my nose, but his main concern was saving my life. I suppose I was too young to contemplate dying, but the notion of disfigurement was devastating.

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