My Year of Acceleration Points by Jamie Sussel Turner

“Are you driving?” my dermatologist asked.

This isn’t going to be good, I thought in a flash. Not good at all. I veered to the side of the road and braced myself for what I was about to hear. “The results of your biopsy are back, and I’m very sorry to say you have melanoma.” I was completely blindsided by this news and can’t recall if I even uttered a sound. My doctor continued, in a direct and caring tone, “Melanoma of the scalp is the most serious type. You can’t be treated locally. You need to go to New York. I’ve done the research and found the best doctor. You have an appointment on Monday.  You’re very lucky to live in this area.”

Acceleration Point #1:  My local dermatologist getting me to the best doctor quickly

My heart and my mind were racing. Things were moving at breakneck speed. It turns out that my cancer was racing too. In the three weeks since my biopsy, it had grown from one bump, which I originally thought was a tick, to a small community of bumps blanketing the center of my scalp. The race was on.  My medical team and I had to accelerate faster than the melanoma. My doctor conveyed this calmly, trying not to terrify me further. She told me about a clinical trial at NYU, on the forefront of innovative melanoma treatments. Without the luxury of time to weigh every detail of my decision, I went with my gut and chose to join the clinical trial. That would give me a 66% chance of receiving a newly-touted “miracle” immunotherapy drug. This drug was so promising that the FDA had accelerated its approval and upped the percentage of study participants who would receive it.

Acceleration Point #2: Making a quick decision for aggressive treatment with a powerful new drug

My treatments began in January 2014, and I returned to my doctor every three weeks for monitoring. On my first return visit I didn’t even make it to the examining room. When my doctor saw me in the hallway, after a big hug, she said, “OK, let me take a look at your head.” I was filled with hope by her reaction. I’ve never seen a doctor be so expressive. She jumped up and down joyfully repeating, “I think you’re getting the good juice!”

Acceleration Point #3: Lucking out and very likely being among the 66% getting the experimental drug

The side effects of my treatments accumulated as expected. By May I could barely climb a flight of stairs and hadn’t eaten a vegetable or fruit (other than a ripe banana or applesauce) for five months. My muscles had atrophied and my gastrointestinal system was a mess. But each visit to my doctor filled me with more hope as the community on my scalp was retreating and becoming lighter in color and less pronounced.

Acceleration Point #4: Deciding my increasing side effects meant I was getting better

Once the arduous treatment was behind me I needed to accelerate my recovery. Simple activities like getting off the couch made me feel more like my 90-year old mother than my usual self. I needed to regain my strength along with regaining my health. So, I hired a personal trainer which was something I had never done before. I know how to work out and have done it my entire adult life. But, I continue to be astonished at how quickly working with an expert helped to whip me back into shape.

Acceleration Point #5: Hiring a personal trainer to accelerate my recovery

As I approached the anniversary of my diagnosis, I reflected on the many choices I made over the past year. Looking through the lens of acceleration helped me to see how crucial the pace of every element has been: from my doctors to the clinical trial to the new drug to recovering.

But there’s another choice I made. That choice was about my attitude which I also accelerated. I could have wallowed in feeling unlucky to have gotten melanoma. Instead, I chose to feel lucky to have gotten it at a time in history when an innovative drug was being accelerated by the FDA. And choosing a positive attitude not only improved my quality of life during the process, but it also accelerated my recovery.

Acceleration Point #6: Accelerating my attitude

So, what accelerators show up in your life? They might be people, innovations, or even conversations. TEDxNavesink on April 11, 2015 will focus on accelerators, from the personal to the practical to the professional, to make our lives and world better. Get your tickets here.

Jamie Sussel TurnerJamie Sussel Turner is a first-time TEDxNavesink volunteer, serving as the content coordinator and blog editor. Jamie is an author, speaker, professional coach and former school principal. She works with business owners and executives who are stressed because work has taken over their lives. She helps them become clear and confident leaders who build dedicated teams so their businesses are more successful and they have more of a life. Jamie recently published her first book: Less Stress Business: A Guide for Hiring, Coaching and Leading Great Employees. She is a certified Social and Emotional Intelligence coach and a Fierce Conversations Certified Facilitator. Jamie is the President-Elect of ICF-NJ (International Coaching Federation of New Jersey).

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