Interviewing Dr. Monica “mOe” Anderson is like having a cup of tea with a friend with all the requisite perks: laughter, sharing of life philosophies and sound advice, and mutual respect.
Dr. Anderson is a survivor. In the introduction to her latest book, Success is a Side Effect: Leadership, Relationships and Selective Amnesia, she describes not wanting to label herself as a “survivor,” since GIST was treatable, until she consulted the dictionary. “Survivor means to continue to live; a person alive after an event in which others have died; to exist. It does not mean you are healed, rescued, or no longer facing challenges, nor that you won’t die eventually. It means – right now – I’m alive. And I will make the best of this day and this place and this opportunity to be a light despite my own battle with darkness. So I am a survivor, and so are you.”
An entrepreneur, best selling author, motivational speaker, widely published journalist and a Doctor of Dental Surgery, Monica has had a rich and successful life. When she ended up in the emergency room in 2012 with food poisoning, she had no idea she was about to receive a diagnosis that would be life altering.
Dr. mOe’s GIST Journey
She had no symptoms, and had just had a physical in January of 2012, and now, one month later, in the middle of the night and alone, she was told they found a mass. This was the lowest point in her GIST journey. She felt as if the world stopped on its axis.
“I cried for days. I didn’t know I could make so many tears.”
Another low point for her was a recurrence at the two-year mark,“I felt like I was doing everything the medical professionals told me. I followed the rules.” But in spite of following courses of Gleevec, Sutent, Tasigna and Stivarga, with side effects that were challenging, she had to undergo a difficult surgery back in December. All of this was in the middle of promoting her book, being a good mom and grandmother and mentoring others. Balancing all her feelings at this time was challenging.
The high point of her GIST journey has been coming through two major surgeries, and meeting people, especially through the LRG. By talking about GIST, not only is she raising awareness, but she is also empowering herself.
Advice for the Newly Diagnosed
What advice would she give to someone newly diagnosed with GIST? “Go outward, not inward. When I was first diagnosed, I thought it was the end of the world. You can get very depressed. Empower yourself by reaching out to family and friends. Empower yourself with information. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your healthcare team. Ask about different modalities of treatment. I wish I had spent more time educating myself. Also, make sure you have a GIST specialist as part of your treatment team, and don’t be rushed in your decision-making. “
Dr. Anderson also advises,“Don’t keep it to yourself.” She shares openly with family and friends and other GISTers. In fact, many of her friends send her research articles, and share recipes with her. Her mother, who is in her seventies, is one of her biggest researchers, handwriting her notes, and faxing them to Monica. “Seeing her handwriting is as comforting as when she would comb my hair as a child.”
New Inspirations and Challenges
Her mentoring, counseling and coaching inspired Dr. Anderson’s latest book.
In the first chapter, “Lesson One: Prescription for Happiness,” she outlines ten strategies. When asked which had been most influential in her GIST journey, she stated,“Number Ten: Never close your heart unless it’s temporarily under reconstruction. Years ago, people wouldn’t mention cancer, referring to it as ‘the big C.’ It is one of the most frightening diagnoses you can receive. I think when people have a loss, our reaction is to become bitter and angry, and we stop loving ourselves. We consider ourselves unworthy of self-love and forgiveness, and perceive ourselves as not being whole. When we have a setback, it is hard to practice these, as we tend to shut down. That is the time to rehabilitate and take a moment to nurture your spirit so that you can open your heart again.”
When asked what her next venture would be, she responded, “I am always looking for new adventures. Last year, even with all my GIST health challenges, I produced a short film and wrote a play. This year really opens up new possibilities, especially with the lessons GIST has taught me. There are so many opportunities out there, but as a ‘type A’ personality, I don’t want to over commit. I want to honor my recovery. That will be something new for me.”
We can’t wait to see what comes next. Dr. Anderson is truly an inspiration. She completed the interview by saying, “I believe I demonstrate that love and hope rather than the trials I am going through are what define me.”