Sandy Sullivan has a favorite quote that she keeps pinned to her bulletin board. It reads, “If you’re lucky enough to get a second chance at something, don’t waste it.”
It’s a powerful statement for anyone, but especially poignant for someone surviving ovarian cancer. And yet, Sandy has always lived her adult life – even pre-cancer – in this way. “Super active. Always doing something,” is how she’d describe herself.
Before she went on disability due to symptoms from her first recurrence, Sandy was a National Account Sales Director for an electric motor company. A female in the male-dominated Power Transmission industry, one of her goals was to help other women, especially younger women just starting out. She became one of the founding members of a women’s networking group that has grown yearly. Last year Sandy was recognized with a PT industry award for her efforts.
In March of 2013, Sandy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Not only did she continue to work through her treatment with the help of her coworkers and family – “This is sales. I was taking calls during my IV drip.” – she kept true to her mission of helping others and told everyone she could about her illness.
“I wanted to get the word out about signs and symptoms while I was in the chemo chair.”
She also knew that she would need support to get through the months of chemo. So she coordinated her care team – from dog walkers to meal providers. “Knowing I had a core group that assisted with the daily activities and not being afraid to ask for help,” Sandy said, “was key to my recovery.”
While Sandy may have left her professional life a year ago, she has not stopped volunteering for ovarian cancer causes. Instead, she is using her skills honed through a lifetime of sales and putting it toward advocacy.
“This is something right up my alley,” Sandy said of the OCRA Advocate Leader position she now holds. “I can talk to anyone about anything. I really feel strongly about this cause.
Just this past March, Sandy experienced her first OCRA Advocacy Day in Washington, DC and said of the experience, “it met my expectations plus 100. It was amazing!” She felt an immediate connection to the other advocate leaders she met, learned a lot from the training, and put her enthusiasm toward good.
“It was like making a sales call,” she said, “except instead of selling something, my passion for ovarian cancer causes came through and will hopefully do good for others.”
Sandy also speaks to rising medical professionals through Survivors Teaching Students, something she has done for six years now. She pleads with them not to trivialize women’s complaints about bloating, changes in appetite, or going to the bathroom more often. She reminds them “to ask your patients the question about symptoms that are not typical for them.”
She feels that anyone can be an advocate, even if they are not comfortable with public speaking. “You know your story” she said.
“Cancer really does change your life,” Sandy said.
She’s not putting off for the future things that she can do now – whether that’s being a voice for others facing ovarian cancer or traveling with friends and family. She’s also developed a deeper sense of compassion, recognizing that we can’t always see what other people are going through, but knowing that we all have something we’re battling.
That’s why she made time while she was still working and going through treatments to volunteer for the ovarian cancer community.
“Where before I would have been like, ‘oh, I’m too tired,’ I said ‘nope, you’re going to do this now because you don’t know how long you have.’”