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A Journey of a Million Steps

Ten years ago I was told that I had six months to live. After discovering a lump under my right arm (on my 10th wedding anniversary), I underwent a biopsy and was advised by the oncologist that my prognosis was dim; stage 2 breast cancer that was aggressive with slim margins. My first thought was focused solely on my two young children - Ben who was 8 and Samantha who was 5 - how would they grow without a mother to foster them? What would happen to them considering my marriage was falling apart - who would they live with? Determined to stay alive, I told the doctors at Sloan Kettering to do whatever it took; cut off my arms, take away my breasts, remove my uterus. That is what they did; they took away everything that physically made me a woman. What they were unable to do was take away what emotionally and intellectually made me a female - the sense of wonder I had when watching my kids laugh, the beauty of conversation with other women, the simple awareness of the world around me and my part in it. While the fight for the next two years proved tough (and continues to this day), the resolution to do something positive with the new Ellen was strong. Now ten years later I have changed my life. I have gone from being an attorney (a job I hated) to being a professor (a job I love). I have moved from being silent to being an outspoken activist for the rights of the silenced, including women in conflict areas. Although not necessarily a religious one, I have found my calling in classrooms both here in America and in sub-Saharan Africa.

Having become part of the World Pulse community of engaged women allows me to interact with others around the world, allows me to continue my unending education and allows me to support others doing amazing work. This, more than being a cancer survivor, will be my true legacy.


Stella Paul's picture

A hug

I wish I knew your real name! If I did, I could tell you that you are now in a different league altogether where there are hundreds of women who survived like you did and all are, therefore, winners in their own right. I am one of them too.

Life is beautiful, when lived. Congrats on owning such a life, living it!

A hug!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

love2write's picture

A Hug To You

A huge hug to you as well!!

Ellen Rosner Feig
Assistant Professor, Composition and Literature
Carl Wilkens Fellow, Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur

zoneziwoh's picture

Re: hug

I concur with Stella paul, goodness - you are a inspiration to every human being. I read your story with such much emotion.I am extremely proud of your courage and determination.
Thank You so much Ellen for sharing your story. It is very inspiring. Imagine 10 years ago, you were been told the number of days you had to stay alive- oh No! you stood against it and like a brave woman you were, you are incharged in designing your live.
and that was exactly what you did. I do pray many women out there have the chance to read your story and become inspired.

Thank you

Stay Blessed



Facebook:Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo Wondieh

Twitter | Instagram: @ZoFem

Adepeju's picture

A story of hope

Absolutely touching story. You have no idea how many people will draw strength and courage from this. The summary of your message to me? ''being down is not being out''

love2write's picture


thanks you so much!

Ellen Rosner Feig
Assistant Professor, Composition and Literature
Carl Wilkens Fellow, Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur

AchiengNas's picture

Experience turned into ministry

Dear fellow woman,
I am touched by your article and I must confess that you are saving and will be saving millions and billions and trillions of lives throughout the globe. If everyone in this world turned their experiences into ministry as you are doing, many of the frustrated alcoholic, drug abusers, the prostitutes, the rapists would have found peace, choice and sense of direction for their lives and their families. Supposing out of frustration you poisoned/killed yourself we would not read this beautiful article and your children would not feel the warmth of their mother at this stage of their lives. Thanks to you, thank you for being a warrior, thank you for sharing your experience and may you find peace, strength and hope fresh and new always.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!



I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

love2write's picture

With Love

thank you beatrice...your beautiful words truly touched my heart.

Ellen Rosner Feig
Assistant Professor, Composition and Literature
Carl Wilkens Fellow, Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur

choirgirl's picture


Not only you have a story to tell. You are a story. A tale of strength, courage and love. Love for yourself, your children and life kept you alive and it still does. This is what happens when we demonstrate our capability to turn negativity into positivity: we find out sides of ourselves we never thought we had.
The signs on your body, the work you do, the passion you have convey a message of hope for which I thank you.


love2write's picture

Wow you just left me in tears

Wow you just left me in tears - thank you so much.

Ellen Rosner Feig
Assistant Professor, Composition and Literature
Carl Wilkens Fellow, Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur

Thuwaraha's picture

Appreciate u

Hai Ellen, I'm really proud of you how you have transformed in your life in a new way.......
I wish you and pray for you to go ahead with more......... more..........

With love,


noreens's picture

Hi Ellen, I have to agree

Hi Ellen,

I have to agree with all the above comments. It is so easy to succumb to the negative and give up. You had the courage and determination to turn the bad into good. It's amazing how we find strength inside ourselves in times of trouble, and that you did whatever it took to turn a life-threatening illness into something so positive is heart warming. You have the strength that every mother and woman should have.

Best wishes,

Monica Clarke's picture

I admire you

Thanks for sharing so intimately, Ellen. I agree, agree so much with what our sisters have already written to say to you above. I want to add to their voice my admiration for your ability to turn suffering on its head, so it can give out its aroma of strength, endurance, love and goodness. You have walked a path which many of us are still going to tread. Seeing you ahead of us will give us the courage to keep walking.

Lots of love and warmth to you, Ellen. Bon courage!

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive.
I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well.
(A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

Celine's picture

Dear Ellen

Dear Ellen,

I like your courage. You survived it all!

I want to assure you that you are not alone in the outspoken activism for the rights of the silenced, the multitude of persons living with one physical challenge or the other. I am here for the same cause. The world is still for us. We are part of creation, the beauty of the universe, the hope for change which we advocate for.

Though in conflict situations it is worse for women but the story of Zainab from Somalia and my own mother indicates that most times women are naturally put in positions to save situations.

I pray that God gives you strength more than that of lion and the wings to soar higher in your profession.
Best in all your endeavors!


MaDube's picture

Dear Ellen

Your story is simply amazing because you did the most selfless thing that anybody could ever have done, losing yourself so you could be there for others. I am deeply awed by your selflessness and your love as a mother. I believe in God and I see him in you and I hope he keeps you alive to see your wishes towards you children's future fulfilled.

fem4femmes's picture

Radiant feminine beauty!!!

You are all of these things personified!

Ellen, each part of you, each organ, each limb, each hair, each scar... are physical testament to the strength and sacrifice and unending love that make you a woman... all that women are made of!


Thank you for the way in which it shines on each of us!


"I am the flicker, flame, butterfly ablaze who wants to fly in search of mythical rainbows beyond the rain." ~ Ana Castillo

Diane Dillon's picture


Hello Ellen this is a wonderful story of surviving and your spirit. I had a friend who went thorugh this she was told she had a few months left so she decided to live it up and took me to events, Well then her docotor gave her a treamtent and she was cured, she called to tell me the good news, then she said but how am I going to pay all these bills from living it up. She lived 2 more years and then trough a party for everyone and gave gifts at her service with a letter to say good bye. she worked hard at helping people all her life and wrote several books.
I was diagnosed with advance Systemic Lupus ethermatosis in 1978 and was told I had a few years well it is 2011 and I am still here. I spent time with the Navajo and Hopi and they had a lot to offer for my recovery.
I am so glad you are still here and I and others got to know your story

love2write's picture

Wow I have lupus as

Wow I have lupus as are you doing? You are inspirational to me!

Ellen Rosner Feig
Assistant Professor, Composition and Literature
Carl Wilkens Fellow, Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur

Greengirl's picture


I can't but thank god for an opportunity to read your story. Now I understand beyond measure your appreciation of the motherly role the model woman upholds. I have no doubts that your children would never wish to have any other person as their mother, but you. You represent the very essence of Motherhood. On World Pulse, I dedicate my article on the Model Woman to you. A big warm hug to you from Nigeria.


usha kc's picture

Dear Ellen,,,, My eyes got

Dear Ellen,,,, My eyes got full of tears when reading ,,,,,,,,,,,,, how courageous mother you are!!!! I salute your solid willpower to live for kids,,, how touching!!! When I get sick me too think of my 7 years old daughter!!!
Your feeling of motherhood touched me dear..

you are miracle!!!!!!!!!!
stay always blessed,,, a big hug from Nepal.

Fungai Machirori's picture

I can see how much you love

I can see how much you love your daughter Usha. She is blessed to have a mummy like you. And we are blessed to have you as our sister. Kisses ♥

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

usha kc's picture

Heyy Fungai,, it's so nice to

Heyy Fungai,, it's so nice to have your words after long.. I really am miss you dear.
yess i love her soooooo much .

hug and kisses to you dear.

have gud time.

Nusrat Ara's picture

You are such an inspiration

You are such an inspiration Ellen. Thanks for sharing and do tell us more about you and your experiences.

Keep writing.



warona's picture

Am so touched my dear

Dear Friend,

It so good to hear your voice here. You are such a strong woman, indeed your faith has worked for you , making you well, in the midst of sorrow and pain.Even us we were hopeless, tortured and left to die but by God 's grace miraculously i was blessed to air myself in this platform, i got healed and restored. I had so much hope, with all the sisters, they encouraged me. So be encouraged dear. Take heart as you venture in another lap of life.

Wishing you all the best

Your sister


"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

Fungai Machirori's picture

Just what I needed to read

You have reminded me - yet again - why I should be thankful for my life with all of its imperfections. Thank you ever so much. Continue the good fight of life. I am sure your children are ever so grateful that you stuck around. And so are we!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Your story reminds me of a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt who said "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." You speak for yourself, but also for all the powerful and courageous women faced and overcame--or did not overcome--breast cancer. They would be proud to stand with you.

As I read your story, I found myself wishing that you had used more of the 500 word limit. I did not want the story to end. It is inspiring to know that your experience has resulted in the discovery of your 'calling'. At 45, I became a physician after being badly injured in a head on collision. As they say, what does not kill us makes us stronger.

Keep writing. And keep offering everything with love, passion and humility.
Best of health and joy to you!

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