“I make every moment matter!”
It’s when she’s busy and productive that former All My Children actress Mary Ann Wasil feels most alive—and that goes double when her children are near!
Bottled water? Check. Magazine? Check. Roses? Of course! After all, it’s chemo day, and Mary Ann Wasil, who was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2004 and stage IV disease in 2011, never misses a chance to show her oncologist some love. So it’s been one rose for her first chemo, two for her second, and so on. The rest of the folks in the chemo suite? They get fresh donuts! Leave it to the spunky patient advocate and mother of three—Mary, Betsy and Eddy—to make a party out of chemo!
“I go for treatment every three and every four weeks,” says Mary Ann, who currently receives a targeted therapy for HER2+ breast cancer along with chemo. “It’s remarkable. For so many women I’ve gotten close to, metastatic breast cancer is a chronic illness.” Which is not to say it’s been easy. “My kids do lay in bed at night on Christmas and wonder if it’s our last Christmas together.”
What has made the journey manageable? Her family: “My children and sister support and sustain me. We make the most of every moment that we can.” Her doctor, of course: “We are a match made in heaven. I’m a person first to Dr. Silber, then a patient.” And the women who, like her, are managing life with stage IV breast cancer: “We hold each other up!”
Also igniting Mary Ann’s passion is the organization she set up in 2009—the Get In Touch Foundation, which helps girls in grades 5 through 12 get comfortable performing breast self-exams. Her plan is to put the Daisy Wheel—a cardboard tool she developed with the aid of a team of medical advisers—in the hands of every girl. Spin it and you get step-by-step instructions for doing a breast self-exam. Often, she is on the road for speaking engagements and fundraisers. “But if I have to, I can run everything from my bed. All I need is an iPhone and my laptop.” Which makes it easy to coordinate events such as the “Pretty in Pink” luncheon hosted by Rob Lowe last spring in L.A.
“I’m trying to squeeze a lot of life into a little amount of time,” says Mary Ann. So she lives life in high gear, praying all the while. “Everything I do is a prayer,” she says. “I say thank you all the time—for everything. God is my go-to.”
Here, Mary Ann’s tips on thriving with stage IV breast cancer:
- Work through the tough stuff. “People focus too much on the negative. That sucks your life away. I got hit by a bus [cancer] in 2004 and it backed up and ran over me. I—and my children—work hard to be able to live and function through it.”
- Know your ABCs—Acknowledge It, Bless It, Carry On. “This is one of my mottoes—and my ‘ABC’ out ofsadness. It doesn’t mean I don’t get sad. I give in to sadness when it comes. But I never shake my fist at the universe. Never, ever.”
- Reach out, your way! Every chemo session since 2011, Mary Ann has snapped a photo of her shoes and posts it to her Facebook page. “My friends who don’t know how to say ‘How are you?’ respond, ‘Great shoes!’ This is a way to participate in my wellness. It really does touch me. It’s sweet to know that they are paying attention, and I get a giggle over which shoes get the biggest response.”
- Make the right moves. “It’s when I don’t walk that my back aches,” says Mary Ann, who has nodules on her sacrum, spine and chest wall. “So no bungee jumping, zip-lining or trapeze flying. I walk the beach or on my treadmill. Or I put in a Rodney Yee DVD and do yoga.”
- Cut toxic people out of your life. “I think it’s important to de-clutter. I can’t be around toxic people. It’s like asking me to breathe under water—I can’t do it.”
- Take good care of yourself. “People look at me and see, ‘Stage IV cancer since May 2011—and she’s still here nearly 4 years later.’ That’s pretty good! I think it’s because I’ve always had a healthy lifestyle.”
- See the blessings. “I really like who I am and who I’ve become and how I’ve grown. My children are the most compassionate, remarkable people. They’ve been profoundly affected. [My cancer] has influenced so much of their lives and choices. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Watch Mary Ann's video below