I met Susan Stachler recently in Atlanta. She was in the book section at Costco, signing her new release of The Cookie Cure that she wrote with her mother Laura Stachler. Susan exuded positive energy. She explained that she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s at the age of twenty-two, which took her on a harrowing journey just at the time she had expected to graduate from college. Sadly, her mother had been through this experience before, as her maternal aunt whom Susan was named after had died from cancer at the young age of twenty-eight.
Susan describes in her book the many fears she faced after being diagnosed. As she began chemotherapy, her doctors warned her of many potential side effects, including hair loss. She cut eight inches of her hair off while it was long and healthy, and donated it for other cancer survivors. Meanwhile, she began searching for a wig of her own – it seemed important to be prepared. She visited shops with her mother and tried on several. Seeing herself in a wig seemed a sort of metaphor for the way her life was going. The way her body would respond to cancer treatment was unknown, and now her very sense of self was questioned as she saw her reflection looking back at her as if in disguise. None of the wigs felt right to her. She finally took a chance and ordered one online. It was after the wig arrived that she gained a moment of clarity. “Looking back, I had known before we ever started the wig hunt that we would never find just the right one. The one I wanted wasn’t one at all. I wanted a say. And I wanted the power to say, ‘No, no thank you’ to each wig at each place. It turned out that what I needed was a plan. I couldn’t control my hair falling out, but I could control how I wanted to be seen. It would be bandanas and scarves covering my head as my hair fell out. I made a choice that was best for me.”
I’ve had my own defining moments in life. Those moments that come just as you’re about to take action but realize you need to pivot. While in my forties, I was divorced and feeling the need to do something for myself. I remember standing in a furniture store about to buy new furniture that a designer had helped me select. We had everything picked out, and I waited nearly thirty minutes for the salesperson to become available to take my order. I needed to get back to my job, and had a sudden moment of clarity. I didn’t need to buy new couches. What I needed was to take the money I’d saved and go to grad school to begin a new career. I walked out of the furniture store, and started my professional journey as a therapist.
We all have plans in life that are obstructed or disrupted. Woody Allen said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” We experience setbacks, even grief stricken moments when it may seem as if the universe is conspiring against us. In our moment of need, it’s good to hear from those who are further down the path – those who have found a way to heal, creating meaning from suffering. Susan’s story is one of resilience that eventually led her to a fulfilling and meaningful life as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur.
Thank you, Susan for being vulnerable, courageous and brave in telling your story. Here’s to making a new plan, and to celebrating your defining moments of clarity! Susan Stachler’s book, The Cookie Cure, A Mother Daughter Memoir of Cookies and Cancer is published by sourcebooks, copyright 2018.
Please contact Marilyn Witbeck at 770-771-6903, or by email at marilyn@atlrI.com for more information.