By Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW
In 2006, one year after taking custody of her 10-month-old and 23-month-old great granddaughters, Margo Chevers, then 60, was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) on in her lower abdomen. GIST is an incurable cancer, but it can be controlled with medications.
Despite learning the survival rate for GIST was 1 1/2 years, Margo wasn’t the type to give in to fear and defeat. Her life hadn’t been easy. She had endured a five-year long physically abusive marriage to an alcoholic and drug addict before escaping with her “two beautiful kids” at age 26.
“I was shy and absolutely lacking in self-esteem," she recalls. "I had only one year of college, no job skills and didn’t see myself as worthy of anything.”
Margo wound up on welfare, but quickly leapfrogged into another marriage. This union also lasted five years. She had everything she’d ever wanted, except a faithful husband. “I blamed everyone else in the world for my mistakes – my parents, sister, brother, husbands," she says.
Then, in a light-bulb moment, Margo realized she was the only constant in all her relationships. “It was a scary thought, but also the most empowering thought in the world," she admits. "Everything was up to me.”
At age 31, divorced again and back on welfare, Margo became “a sponge” for learning, reading every self-help book she could find. She took the principle of goal setting and ran with it, becoming a top salesperson for everything from fuller brushes to real estate. Eventually, she landed the job of director of sales and marketing for two convention hotels in New England.
Life was good. Margo bought a house for herself and her two daughters, by then in their teens. Then a TV movie, The Burning Bed, starring Farrah Fawcett as an abused wife proved the catalyst to another life-changing moment. “I thought I’d put my past behind me but I sobbed so much it felt like an out of body experience," she says. The result: "I felt I should go out and tell my story about being a young mother and in an abusive marriage.”
Learning how to perform public speaking involved overcoming a lot of nervousness (remember the "not giving into defeat" mantra) and joining Toastmasters. Soon she was being booked all around the country, delivering motivational speeches and training executives in time management. She proclaims, justifiably proud: “Every company for whom I did trainings asked me to be their president. The girl with no self-esteem blossomed.”
Taking on custody of her great grandchildren after their mother spiraled into mental illness necessitated getting off the road. In 2006 came the diagnosis of GIST. Margo has since endured two surgeries, the most recent one in January 2012, and medications. Currently she is taking Sutent, which sometimes bring such harsh side effects she’s been forced to go on disability.
Today Margo continues her coaching work (www.margochevers.com) and is writing a children’s book, The Magic Key, which derives from stories to her great-granddaughters, now 6 and 7, designed to help boost their self-confidence by teaching them the magic key to self-esteem and success comes from within.
Margo’s magic key is maintaining the mindset of a healthy person: “My illness may not be curable, but rather than it being a death sentence my sense of living has become heightened.” She pauses, then adds, “I’ve always enjoyed sunsets, rain, kids’ laughter – now I just enjoy them more!”
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based therapist, speaker and author of 3 books, including "The Complete Marriage Counselor: Relationship-Saving Advice from America’s Top 50-Plus Couples Therapists” (Adams, 2010). Her website is www.marriedfaq.com.