A survivor's advice

Lessons learned: Cancer gave Alexandra Knight another chance to live life to fullest

Lessons learned: Cancer gave Alexandra Knight another chance to live life to fullest

When luxury handbag and accessories designer Alexandra Knight was preparing remarks for the Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation's "Catwalk for a Cure" evening, she initially struggled with the words to tell her story of survival of a cancer which is so rare that it occurs in only one person in every million. 

This wife and mother of two young sons was diagnosed with dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans in 2011. Today, she is well and singularly moved guests in the ballroom of Hotel ZaZa to tears when she accepted the foundation's Survivor Award.

Her words were moving, inspirational and instructional. As we reflect on our lives during this season of giving, CultureMap offers this excerpt from her remarks that had everyone in the ballroom re-examining his or her approach to life. 

What is the take home piece for you that I learned through having cancer that can influence you — without being diagnosed?

 It is this courage and vulnerability that gave me an amazing deeper connection with my friends and family. It developed new friendships and resurrected and strengthened old ones. 

Cancer was the vehicle that took me from one place to another. It was the big shift in my life. It was a silent manifesting tumor that was in my chest that went unnoticed for years. For me that tumor was a gift. A little tap on the shoulder that whispered in my ear to look all around me and not take my life for granted. It was another chance at living life.

Cancer taught me so many things, but tonight I want to share with you my important three lessons.

Lesson No. 1 Diagnosis was a crash course in courage

I learned the courage to ask for help from friends, the courage to reach out and tell people that I was struggling mentally and physically. The courage to tell people that I was terrified it had spread to my lungs and that I would die. The courage to lean into the fear and grab my husband's hand and know that I was not alone and that we could do this together.

It is this courage and vulnerability that gave me an amazing deeper connection with my friends and family. It developed new friendships and resurrected and strengthened old ones.

I cherish the special moments of support and connection from my friends just being with me — teaching me to needlepoint while in bed with me and being there for my children by giving them the hugs they needed when I could not after my surgery.

Lesson No. 2. Let it go!

I can now say that I am a recovering "control freak." Cancer shows you that you do not have control over your life at all. Even though you think you do. My mantra was that no one could do it better than me, so I did it all.

What I realized is that once I let go of that control — over my business, over my friends, over my family and I gave them this fabulous gift to let them practice their own courage, I had an overwhelming faith they would not let me fall. It was the most liberating feeling on earth. It allowed me to deeply appreciate those who help or had been trying to help for so long and I was so proud of those for taking the challenge on.

  Cancer shows you that you do not have control over your life at all. Even though you think you do.

 Lesson No. 3. Stop "should-ing" on yourself

I lived in a world of never enough. I would start the day with saying that I should have gotten more sleep. I should have done this — and my last words would be that I did not get enough done that day, not enough time with my kids, not enough work in the office —and I should have done that. 

I was always looking for the big moments and missing the important ones which are so small. I was caught up in what I thought I should be doing and missed what was happening around me.

The little moments of imperfection were the moments that I cherish now dearly and regret having overlooked in the past —Truett having his shoes on the wrong feet as he goes out the door for school, Thomson being able to hula hoop to I Am Sexy and I Know It without stopping, while still wearing pull ups at age 6.

The challenge

Cancer slowed me down enough to see and appreciate the little things. I learned my life was perfectly imperfect and I love it that way. My cancer showed me that I have plenty and I am enough. It taught me a strict practice of gratitude. I am very blessed. I did not have radiation or chemo and did not lose my hair. But somewhere in my life I did lose my way, cancer was the fork in the road where I looked either way and chose my new path.

Sarcoma brought me to my knees, it humbled me and it broke me open. Honestly, it was one of the most impressive things that has ever happened to me. In the midst of a tragedy, I was enlightened and had a beautiful awakening.

I challenge you tonight to make this small shift in your life — without the cancer diagnosis — to let the little things go, and pay attention to the imperfectly perfect parts of your life. Tell someone every day how special they are to you, how they have made a difference in your life. It will for sure make a difference in yours.

Alexandra Knight, Thomson Knight, Truett Thomson
Alexandra Knight with her sons Truett, 4, left and Thomson, 6. Courtesy photo
26, Catwalk for a Cure, November 2012, Brady Knight, Alexandra Knight, Elaine Knight, Fella Knight
Brady and Alexandra Knight with Elaine and Fella Knight at the  Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation Catwalk for a Cure. Brady Knight , Alexandra Knight , Elaine Knight , Fella Knight Photo by © Roswitha Vogler/Photosbyrovo.com
Alexandra Knight, Brady Knight, Thomson Knight, Truett Thomson
Alexandra and Brady Knight with their sons Truett, left and Thomson. Courtesy photo