Rose Checchio is co-Owner of Little Genius Academy, a long-term member of the Edison Chamber of Commerce, and a Councilwoman in Scotch Plains, NJ. The following letter was first published in TAP Into ... Scotch Plains.
Today is the first day of October, which means it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month.
On June 17, 2015, I was diagnosed with triple negative, stage 3 breast cancer.
Why me? Why now? How? Those were my initial thoughts on being diagnosed.
I am a wife and a mother of an 8-year-old son and a daughter who was leaving for college in the fall. It was frightening and it broke my heart to think of my son and daughter growing up without a mother. There wasn't a history of breast cancer in my family, I didn’t have any close family members that were diagnosed with breast cancer I thought I was safe. I came to find out 85% to 90% of women diagnosed have no history of breast cancer in their family.
I was in the best shape of my life or so I thought. I worked out and ate right always pushing myself to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I had my first mammogram when I was 40 and then 41 but I was late in having my mammogram between the ages of 42 and 43.5 years of age. I was six months late for my annual mammogram and devastated.
Running for Town Council (Scotch Plains) and operating two businesses was extremely time consuming and stressful. I focused on campaigning, educating myself on municipal government, politics and nearing the end of the campaign defending myself and my business. I didn't think about the personal things that needed to be done. I was completely in survival mode.
I've learned many valuable lessons in my life, but one that now came through loud and clear was that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. I needed to make changes in my life and not wait for the perfect moment. Illness and disease teach us to embrace the moment and live life to the fullest.
Through campaigning I learned politics is a double edge sword, people can be mean spirited but I have also had the privilege of meeting some amazing people that I am honored to have in my life. Some folks lose sight of the real issues and make personal attacks. You quickly must learn to honor yourself and distance yourself from situations and people who do not enhance your wellbeing. Running for Town Council was never about winning for me, it's about working hard, getting the job done and making a difference in our community. I had worked so hard in my own businesses and I could hear my grandfather’s voice saying, "The only limits you have in your life are those you place upon yourself.”
I knew I had no limits, and for 14 years I had grown and nurtured two successful businesses. I felt truly blessed in my life and it was my time to give back, I just wanted to be an asset to my community.
Being elected to Town Council (Scotch Plains) has been one of the highlights of my life, and I am working very hard to accomplish projects that are extremely important to me and the community as a whole. I am very passionate about several projects that I am working on in Scotch Plains: The Safe Routes to School grant, The Historical Grant, the beautification of the downtown and downtown development, enforcing recycling, historical preservation & documentation committee, technology for seniors, our Cultural Arts committee and -- most importantly -- bringing the community together.
The way I approach my life carries over into my career. If I live my life looking for positives, even in the face of adversity, then I can impact and teach those around me leading by example.
Shortly after being diagnosed I went to the beach with my son and it warmed my heart watching him play in the ocean. It was like watching him play in the ocean for the very first time, even though I had watched him many times before. That day was so special to me because I will forever remember the importance of the moment and that memory will forever be etched in my mind. I had begun to wonder how many precious moments of my life I had skimmed over while I plowed through my day to day world working toward a goal.
I began to see I focused so intently on where I was headed, I forgot to be present in the moment. Reality was setting in; I couldn't go back and recover lost moments, but I could make a conscious decision to be present from that moment forward.
Adversity can be the greatest teacher the universe can throw at us. If we are unable and unwilling to be open to change, we will miss the opportunity to grow and to experience the wonders of truly living. I have never been afraid of change; I welcome it as yet another opportunity to grow.
Have you heard of the saying, “When you make plans, God laughs”? That about sums it up. Although life has taken me down an unexpected path, it has allowed me to see how far just one voice can really reach. I honor those who courageously rise and bravely fight cancer, women and men who are diagnosed with a deadly disease and are put through the rigors of grueling, poisonous, and far reaching treatment plans that sometimes do not work. Some days, I am bummed that I am one of these women, but for most of my moments, I am proud to be a part of a group of warriors, whose strength inspires me to stay strong, focused and hell-bent on surviving this disease!
I want to thank my husband, my rock, my beautiful children, my family & friends for all your support and love. I want to thank all the nurses and doctors who devote their heart and soul in the pursuit of healing. God Bless.
Councilwoman, Scotch Plains