Survivor’s Dream Turns Big and Hairy
We keep hearing we have to have hope after cancer. It’s not an instant cure-all for what you are trying to get out from under. Hope is like holding onto a thick rope while feeling your way through a dark cave. You’re blind, but keep going, figuring you’ll eventually come out on the other side, into the sun. At least that’s how Terri Wingham feels. She kept going, past the cave and ended up in South Africa.
“My decision to volunteer in Africa was impulsive. With my last reconstructive surgery on the horizon, a broken heart from the end of a relationship, and an argument with a friend who felt I should be happier that cancer was practically over, I felt incredibly low. I wanted to do something big to feel inspired about my life again,” says, Terri. She quit her six-figure job as one of the top recruiters for a major North American technology agency, and booked a volunteer program in South Africa.
Terri’s mission work was the beginning of a fresh chapter that is now evolving into what she calls her Big, Hairy Audacious Dream. She’s elbow-deep in a plan to bring other survivors into the dream, so they can start their own fresh chapters.
Her vision (which you will discover in a few paragraphs) began in a little town called Langa, where she helped care for rambunctious one- to three-year olds at an underfunded day care center. Thousands of miles from friends and family, and with volunteers and villagers with no expectations of her, Terri let go of the pressure to get back to “normal.”
“Africa is where I crashed into love. The people showed me so much warmth, and my perspective of what I had been through instantly shifted. Seeing toddlers with no pants, picking through garbage on the side of the road— and mothers carrying dusty gas containers filled with water on their heads made me realize how much I have to be grateful for. I thought of how many women would be happy to trade places with me, cancer or no cancer.”
Back in Vancouver, Canada, Terri packed up, turned in her apartment keys and traveled across North America. She spoke with leaders at some of the largest cancer support organizations about their survivorship programs, and about creating international volunteer opportunities under these programs. Terri envisioned building these programs in partnership with international volunteer companies, incorporating volunteering, cultural exchange, and a bucket list activity.
The CEOs she met with said, show me more. So it was back to the “third world,” volunteering with organizations across five continents to get what she needed to lay the groundwork for the Fresh Chapter Foundation she plans to launch.
“Now I’ve got to prove that this volunteer model can work,” says Terri.
So in February 2013, she goes to New Delhi, India, with a small posse of survivors, a researcher and a filmmaker—and backed by individual fundraising, corporate sponsorships and research grants.
“We’re going to analyze and document this international volunteer model and see if an experience like this will help other survivors start fresh chapters, the way my time in Africa helped me. My long-term dream is to partner with cancer organizations across North America to ensure no other survivor walks out of their final treatment feeling alone and like the support has ended.”
Terri plans to come back from her next trek with more than a blueprint and documentary.
“I want for us to tell the story of international volunteering. I want to show struggles of people in third world countries, especially tied to the lack of cancer care, which I saw first hand in a dirty hospital in Viet Nam where hungry people got chemo sitting on dilapidated, splintered benches. But besides telling these stories, I hope to raise awareness of survivorship and the challenges some of us face moving forward.”
“My brush with cancer taught me life is short and we all deserve a chance to write a new story. Making meaningful human connections with people around the world can be one way to shift your perspective. For me, it was a way to hope, and to healing.”
For snippets from Terri’s travels, visit Adventure of Hope.