Judi's story: Choosing joy

Judi's story

Judi's story: Choosing joy

JUDI D.
LIVING WITH CANCER SINCE 2012

When Judi walks into a room, laughter and smiles are sure to follow. At 68 years old, she has a certain swagger and a vibrant energy that's matched only by her active grandchildren. She channels that energy into poetry, mentorship, writing, painting and spreading joy wherever she goes.

When you've been diagnosed with stage IV cancer, you have this laser-like focus on the moment that you're living in.

Judi channels this positive focus into everything she does. It shapes her painting and fuels her other creative passions, which include partnering with a former student as an artist-in-residence at her professional dance company.

The journey

Like most people, Judi was shocked when she was diagnosed with stage IV thyroid cancer in 2012. Since then, she's had six surgeries, as well as other treatments. One of the surgeries was to remove a large tumor from the back of her throat. That surgery brought with it the risk that Judi—a spoken word poet, teacher and grandmother—could permanently lose her voice.

The possibility of losing her voice was terrifying. Thankfully, Judi's surgeon, someone she came to know well and trust completely, suggested an innovative alternative: a robot usually used to perform tonsillectomies could remove the tumor through her mouth rather than her neck. Judi was optimistic and agreed to move forward. To her relief, the surgery was successful. To this day, Judi continues to use her powerful voice to speak up, tell her story and spread her light to the people around her.

Judi's story 1
Judi at a rehearsal for her show.
Judi's story 2
Judi with friends in her backyard in Sacramento, CA.
Judi's story 3
Judi with a performer backstage.
Judi's story 4
Judi works out with her personal trainer.
Judi's story 5
Judi's doctor examines her at a routine checkup.

Getting to joy

Judi has chosen to face the world with joy and courage. So it's surprising to learn that initially she kept her fear and sadness to herself. It's only been in the past few years that she has decided to be truly open about her struggle with cancer. And "live joy—not chase it."

I recognized that if I could embrace my grief and my sorrow with the same passion that I did the things that I have passion about and that bring joy into my life, then I could get over an emotional hump, and I could be better at being a survivor and move away from being a victim.

Judi's capacity for joy is hard to match, as is her openness about the grief and sorrow she's experienced. It's her mission to accept every part of the cancer journey, and to turn it into something positive and meaningful. With her steadfast optimism and the support of her husband and community, Judi welcomes a life shaped by art, poems, stories and defining moments.

You get to choose every day who you're going to be and what you're going to bring to the table. You can choose to be afraid. You can choose to be filled with grief and sorrow. And sometimes you have to do that. But you also get to choose joy.