'How Cancer Improved My Life'

College student Molly McMaster found her purpose when she was diagnosed with cancer.

This story originally appeared in Positive Thinking magazine.

"Being diagnosed with cancer was one of the best things that happened to me," Molly McMaster, 31, declares with such conviction that you'd think she never had a moment’s doubt that she would survive.

Far from it. Molly was diagnosed on February 19, 1999, her twenty-third birthday. Back then, she was a student at Colorado State University—active, in shape and in love with ice hockey. She worked part-time at a rink and played hockey regularly. In the fall of 1998, her health started going downhill. She felt tired and nauseated. She suffered bouts of abdominal pain, sometimes so severe that she couldn’t walk. "Hockey and school stopped being fun," she recalls.

She saw a doctor who told her it was most likely irritable bowel syndrome. But Molly's condition worsened. She had to give up her job. By February, the pain had grown so unbearable, she left school and went home to Glens Falls, New York, to try and get to the root of her health problems. Within less than 24 hours of her return, she was in the operating room undergoing emergency surgery for what she believed was a total blockage in her large intestine.

Her diagnosis turned out to be something she'd never considered, something much worse: Stage II colon cancer. Molly’s initial reaction was that she was doomed. "I remember feeling like I was tainted in some way," she says. "I was that poor girl with cancer." She even thought about how she might painlessly end her life instead of enduring a protracted, agonizing battle with the disease.

Then, right after she received the diagnosis, she got a phone call from a friend. "Rocky called to wish me a happy birthday. I told him I had cancer. He said, 'That stinks but you’ll get through this.'" His straightforward statement jump-started Molly's fighting spirit. “I thought, you know what, he's right. I am."


She leaned on her friends and family even more as she went through eight grueling months of chemotherapy. "Without them to push me through the recovery, I don’t know where I'd be,” she says. Not everyone was supportive. "I had some friends who just stopped calling," she says. "When that happened, it hurt. My true friends stuck by me, though."

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Maria Woehr
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