“I don’t have a bucket list,” says Emily. “My bucket list is just not saying ‘no’ to things. I’m a doer.” And just like that, the 35-year-old higher education recruiter describes herself perfectly. The energy and voracity she has for life is not only inspiring, it’s contagious. “I think I’ve been to every wedding I’ve ever been invited to,” Emily remarks. “I’m flying to Miami for work soon, so I’m going to drive to Key West while I’m there, because I’ve always wanted to go there.” Emily doesn’t live life; she attacks it. And talking to her makes you want to go and do something, too.
In October of 2003, shortly after Emily graduated from LSU, she packed up her Mitsubishi Outlander and moved to Aspen, Colorado. Why? She’d always thought how fun it would be to live out west, she hadn’t found a job yet after college, and why not? As Emily describes it, “All the goodness of the universe came together,” and things just worked out. A friend of a friend had a house available that she could rent, and she just went and lived the Colorado life. She worked in a ski shop; she skied on her lunch breaks; she hiked; she lived there year round, and she became a local. But during that time, she did return to her home in Memphis, Tennessee every six months for appointments with her oncologist. That’s right, Emily is a cancer survivor.
Twelve years ago, the summer before her senior year of college, Emily was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Her first thought upon finding out the lump she had found in her breast was in fact cancer? ‘I don’t have time for this!’ “I just wanted to go back to college and be with my friends,” Emily laughs recalling her first response.
|“I told all my doctors that I was going back to college in January, and that’s what I did,” she says.
And while Emily’s born-in positivity and sense of humor was a huge factor in her attitude toward cancer, her healthy support system helped her maintain that attitude even during the hard times. “I had so many people behind me,” Emily says in an almost uncharacteristically emotional tone. Then things gets upbeat again: “After my mastectomy was scheduled, my friends threw me a party they called ‘Cleavage-Fest 2001’, and they got a cake that was two giant boobs, and everyone wore shirts with plunging necklines, and we looked through Playboy magazines to pick what my new boobs should look like. Having people who can laugh with me made all the difference in the world.”
But of course, Emily isn’t superhuman. She has bad days. And she doesn’t naively live a life of rainbows and butterflies. In fact, she’s a realist. “Some people say, ‘You have to love every single day,’ but that’s not true! Some days, I want to throw things, but I don’t dwell on it, because it only gives me a stomachache. Cancer helped me put things in perspective,” she explains. “Instead of dwelling on negative things, I just decided to say ‘why not’ about living my life. If cancer is what’s going to kill me, it’s going to, so I’m going to do everything I can now.”
■ Emily L. Foley