Stacie Overman can tell you all about the ugly side of cancer—what the disease looks like when it ravages a family, what it’s taken from her and the struggles she’s faced.
Instead, nine years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Stacie chooses to reflect on what cancer has taught her and make the most of what she calls “a blessed life.”
“Being diagnosed with cancer is very scary and you can’t help but worry about the unknowns. Will I survive? How difficult will it be?” Stacie says. “It’s hard to tell someone not to worry, but if there’s one thing that I could have done differently—that I can share with others now, it’s to love every moment and enjoy every person who’s put in your path.”
Stacie was 36-years-old when she was diagnosed. She faced the disease alongside her late husband Hank Sisk who lost his own battle against a rare form of gastrointestinal cancer several years later. Stacie’s journey is chronicled in a video series here.
What got Stacie through the most difficult times in her life was her naturally positive outlook and her belief that good can always be found in the midst of pain. And then there was Hank, who always kept her going and helped her focus on what’s most important.
“Hank always used to ask me, ‘Is your glass half empty or is it half full? Are you looking at it positively or are you looking at it negatively?’” Stacie recalls. “He would tell me things that I now tell others going through cancer: You are inspiring. You’re impacting people in the midst of the yuckiness, and you probably don’t even know it.”
That’s what Stacie thinks about when she watches the videos of her journey. “At times it was hard to share, but I knew that I went through this for a reason. I knew I was supposed to help other people, offer them hope and let them know that they can get through this,” she says.
Here are five things Stacie wished someone had shared with her when she was diagnosed:
Never go to chemotherapy alone
When a recently diagnosed friend told Stacie she was going to her chemotherapy appointment by herself, Stacie responded, “Oh, no, you’re not.” She took her friend to treatment and stayed with her until it was over.
“Sitting there as those chemicals are going into your body—your mind starts racing with self-doubt. Having a friend or family member with you takes your mind off of all that. Never think you have to do this alone.”
Cut the chemo taste with salad dressing
During treatment, Stacie learned that chemotherapy affected her sense of taste and made nearly everything she ate taste metallic, like she had a ground-up penny on her tongue.
“As someone who loves food, I remember feeling angry and frustrated that everything tasted terrible,” Stacie says. “Believe it or not, the salad dressing from Olive Garden cut through that horrible taste. Now, every time I have a friend going through chemo, I pick up a bottle of dressing and a bag of salad and I take it to them and say, “You’re going to really love this during chemo.”
Cucumber is your friend
It wasn’t just food that Stacie found difficult to stomach. Drinking a simple glass of water was difficult.
“Drinking water is important during chemotherapy, but for me, it was almost like trying to drink tinfoil,” Stacie says. That is, until she discovered a trick: Adding cucumber slices to water makes it more tolerable.
Stock up on snacks and keep them close by
Struggling to find foods that tasted good during treatment, Stacie always felt like she was starving. It took her a few chemotherapy appointments to figure out that she needed to prepare snacks ahead of time and have them readily available at her bedside. That way, when she returned home from treatment, fatigued and needing to rest, the foods that tasted best were close by.
Plan for the new normal
After undergoing breast reconstructive surgery, Stacie realized she would need to pay attention to her body in new ways for the rest of her life.
“I tell women who’ve had reconstructive surgery to get a really good massage therapist and make regular appointments,” she says. “It will improve your movement and you’ll experience less pain. Make sure you do regular activities to stretch your muscles to increase mobility in the area of your surgery, too.”
Looking to the future
Despite what she’s lost and what she’s endured, Stacie counts her blessings every day. She and her husband, Larry Overman, just celebrated their third wedding anniversary. And she recently attended the Eugene-Springfield Relay For Life and walked the Survivor’s Lap with her daughter Alex and her first grandbaby, Brody, who was born last month.
Stacie is currently writing a book about her cancer journey that she hopes will inspire cancer survivors and caregivers. She hopes to have it available by the holidays.
Believing that guardian angels helped her through her most difficult days, and that they still continue to guide her, Stacie began painting angels as a form of meditation. Take a look at her paintings here.
Stacie is often asked what her life would be like if cancer had not interrupted. Instead of thinking about what could have been, she chooses to focus on what she’s gained and learned, like how to slow down and take stock of what’s most important.
“Before cancer, I was moving so fast, trying to fill my life with amazing things.
But now, I fill it with meaningful amazing things.”