Once upon a time…

Terri Wingham is the founder and CEO of A Fresh Chapter, a non-profit whose mission is to heal the emotional scars of cancer through volunteerism, meaningful travel, and programs designed to reframe adversity and redefine what is possible.

Written by Terri Wingham | August 26, 2010

So, where do I begin? Maybe with the questions that won’t stop ringing through my mind. What now? What happens after cancer? Who am I now that this nightmare is on its way out?

As I walked the beach in Kitsilano on a cloudy day in June, I contemplated my life’s direction. With chemo and the second of three surgeries behind me, I tried to pep talk myself into a state of optimism. It didn’t work. I continued to feel like a depressed drifter: caught between a past that no longer belonged to me and an unpredictable future.

The best selling ‘self-help’ books made it sound so elementary. I obviously just needed to tell the universe what I wanted. If I could envision it, I could make my future a reality. So, I selected the most powerful woman in the world as my conduit.

If I didn’t know what to do, maybe Oprah could help me. Isn’t she all knowing? Doesn’t she rescue people from the depths of their communal despair? Maybe she could ‘hook me up’ and I could begin my new life?  I giddily composed and sent her an email, then checked my inbox every day for a week.

Dear Oprah,

You don’t know me yet, but I hope that one day you will. I am 31, single, and live in Vancouver, Canada. On October 27, 2009, life as I knew it ended. Perhaps the universe was trying to send me a message to slow down and question whether the stresses of my life were serving me. It worked. My diagnosis of breast cancer brought my career, my quest to meet the perfect man, and my obsession with slimming my hips to an abrupt halt.

The last six months have included a lumpectomy, lymph node dissection, four rounds of chemotherapy, and a bi-lateral mastectomy and those are just the bright, shiny clinical words. I have also contemplated issues surrounding my future fertility, stared at my bald head in the mirror, and experienced what feels like worst PMS of my life as well as the inability to remember even my own name (courtesy of the chemo drugs). The next six months involve procedures to transform my now flat chest back into a perkier version of its old self.

My story may not be unique, but I believe my journey could inspire many. My dream is to write a book. I believe that impacting people in a positive way is what I was put on this earth to do. I believe that the recent events in my life are opening a door to who I was always meant to become.

This isn’t just a book about cancer. This is a book about surviving hardship, but not identifying yourself as the victim…a book about using humour to laugh your way through terror…a book about the search for God or a deeper meaning to life, but not a religious book …a book about finding love in the strangest of places, but learning that someone else’s love can’t save you…a book about realizing that underneath all of the fear and shame we cloak ourselves in, we (even with all of our imperfections) really are enough.

I thought it might be fitting to ask the universe (and you) to help me. I am not an English major and have never written anything except emails and the odd high school essay. I would be grateful if by telling my story I might meet people that can help me navigate this new chapter in my life


It’s almost 3 months later and I still haven’t heard back. WTF? Yes, I could kid myself and believe the producers are going to show up at my apartment (cue sappy music and me with surprised look on my face when I open the door) and then whisk me away to Chicago. But, let’s be real. Even though I used all of the appropriate Oprah language, my email had probably long since been buried in a harried administrator’s inbox.

So, here I am. Stubbornly ready to take on the challenge. Join me in my journey as I write my first book, navigate through a post cancer world, and do my best to uncover the future with a little class and hopefully a lot of humour.

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Comments (19)
  • Lost in Transition • August 26, 2010

    This is the most beautiful thing I have ever read. You have always inspired me Teri from the moment I met you. You are gonna go on to do amazing things and I will be first in line at your book signing!~Shannon

  • beauty by angela • August 26, 2010

    I'm in awe of your strength Terri ! You are meant to inspire all women that walk in your shoes and so many others cheering you from the sideline.Keep writing, Keep reading and Journal/Blog every day. I volunteer with a program called Look Good Feel Better and have so for 2 years. Every month i work with women on making you look and good on the outside which will help in healing on the inside. Its a great program free of charge for YOU. Have you ever heard of this program ? http://www.lgfb.ca. If not we should take it a free course and i volunteer in Surrey the best cancer clinic id love to have you join me one month – its a wee farther than you are but i can take you if you want ? If you ever want to talk i'm hear to listen. I'm a friend of kelly strongitharm. Just believe……gregnangela@telus.net xoxo Angela

  • Nicole Carvalho • August 27, 2010

    Terri, I didn't know that you had been diagnosed with breast cancer… although I had seen your own FB pictures. I thought… maybe you had shaved your head for a friend… but I know it is you who is living through this disease! I want to send you many, many hugs as you pursue the dream of writing your own book. As a young, beautiful woman, you are already inspiring- and the fact that you have kicked Cancer.. just adds to your power 🙂 xoxo

  • Suzanne • August 27, 2010

    Terri, I am proud to know you. PS. Just read the alchemist and was going to recommend it to you and of course, you've read it already. Remember how it says that the universe tests you to see if you really want something before it gives it to you? Re: the Oprah situation- keep trying. Bury her with emails, smoke signals, whatever. PPS. I cannot wait to read the chapter of your blog. 🙂

  • TaniaMostert • August 27, 2010

    Terri! So good to hear from you!I think the book and blog is a wonderful idea – it will help heal and inspires others. Patients, family, friends, lovers …everyone.I am so happy to see your smiling face and to know you are on the mend. Gosh what a journey!And if I have to say WOW sexy with the short hair woman. You rock the look. Hugs and good wishes. Tania

  • Teija • August 27, 2010

    Terri, I had no idea! What a journey you have been through, I am glad that you are on the road to recovery. Keep knocking on Oprah's door, eventually it will open. Remember the scripture, "Knock and it shall be given unto you."

  • Katy • August 27, 2010

    Oh Ter, I love you! Very beautiful, inspiring, wonderful. You are so beautiful and I consider myself blessed, a million times over, to be able to call you my sister. Keep writing and know that I'm right behind you the whole way. I'll even follow you to Chicago! Hugs!

  • holly_gold • August 27, 2010

    Terri…You have always inspired me and I can't wait for you to inspire the world. I support your dream and believe in you. xoxo

  • Brad • August 27, 2010

    Terri,Wow – what an inspiring perspective you have taken. I was not aware that you had been through this. So glad to hear that you're doing well and to see that you are taking the strength, courage and enlightenment gained from this powerful experience to improve the lives of others. Who needs Oprah!? I'll just read A Fresh Chapter!

  • jcheung09 • August 27, 2010

    Winger,I told you, who needs Oprah when I can get you Sarah McLaughlin (I know she just does music now, but just wait till she reads your book), just let me handle it ;). This blog is a phenomenal idea and I am so happy for you. I am surprised that you are surprised about the support you are receiving as you have touched so many people while they have been on their journeys. Your advice and guidance (sometimes recycled although consistent) always comes from the heart and is always greatly appreciated by the recipient. Let’s focus now, get this book published so you can make millions and buy some cocktails for me! XOXOX Jackie

  • Daniel • August 28, 2010

    Toughest General I know!! We three are with you … All the way! We love love you babe!

  • Terri Wingham • August 29, 2010

    I am humbled by your comments and I am so glad to have you on my journey. I look forward to your future posts. After all, we are writing this book together 😉 And Jackie, let me know when you get Sarah McLaughlin on side. Maybe she can sing at my book launch soiree?

  • jcheung09 • August 30, 2010


  • ?! • September 17, 2010

    Ms. Wingham, you are beautiful. Absolutely a beautiful woman, friend, inspiration, and gift to every single one of us…

  • Jenn • November 20, 2010

    I read this post last on your blog…and was a bit in shock when I read it because half way through I sent your blog to a friend of mine and sent her this message:"You must read this blog….talk about powerful writing.. I can totally see her blog/book leading her to a seat on Oprah’s couch."I think the universe is hearing you 🙂

  • Terri Wingham • November 20, 2010

    Jenn – that's crazy. I sure hope the universe is hearing me…Thanks for your support!

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  • Beth Gainer • May 31, 2013

    Terri, this is so beautiful; I have tears in my eyes. You write beautifully and don’t have to be an English major to do so. I love all the wonderful things you are doing, and seeing this very first blog post is unbelievable! You’ve accomplished so much so quickly. And maybe one day you will do that book!

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