“Don’t Feel Bad If Some Of Your Friends Aren’t There For You” Words of Wisdom With Cathy Straup

I had the pleasure of interviewing Cathy Straup, Call Center Sales Coach at Lexington Law, a credit repair services company. Diagnosed with breast cancer twice, Cathy’s story of perseverance and decision to work with a company that can help others in the way it helped her is an inspiration.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?

I was adopted when I was 3 days old. My parents ended up divorcing when I was 12. My mom worked very hard to provide for us. We didn’t have a lot but it never felt that way. She always had something fun planned for my brother and me. I loved school but always got in trouble for talking too much, I still do to this day. I went to community college for my generals and it was shortly thereafter that I met my hubby. We have been married for 32 years this March. He is my rock; I don’t know what I would do without him.

I had severe endometriosis and was told I would never be able to have children. I went through countless surgeries and treatments. Seven years later we had our beautiful daughter Carley and she had the most beautiful blue eyes and curly red hair. Then, just over a year later we had our handsome baby boy Cody. My children are my biggest joy in my life!

I worked in the dental field for 20 years until I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, which is when I had to quit. I stayed home for a while but I began to get depressed and the bills were piling up. Around that time, my daughter started working at Lexington Law and she encouraged me to go in for an interview. I ended up being hired on the spot. I started out on the phones in the call center and worked there for several years, I loved it and I was doing well. I got asked to go to Arizona to help open our Phoenix office and it was then that I decided I loved training. I was in the training department for a year, but my mother became sick and I needed to take care of her, so I started the MIT program and eventually ended up becoming a Sales Coach. I can’t say enough about what I do and the company I work for. I love my job, the people I work with and the clients that call in.

Can you tell us more about your journey with cancer?

Cancer has made me who I am today. I believe being adopted saved me from my cancer advancing. Since I was adopted, the doctors began breast cancer screenings when I was 30 instead of at 45 years old. I had my first mammogram and got a call asking me to come back in for a few more tests and scans. I was then scheduled for an ultrasound a few days later.

I don’t think I slept, ate or quit crying until my appointment. The doctors conducted the ultrasound and it was then that they determined that there was something there. The next step was to get me scheduled for a biopsy. This was probably the most horrific thing I have ever had done. You’re on a table in the air with your breasts in a hole in the table, and the surgeon is underneath you. They numb the area, insert a tube into your breast and take out tissue samples. Then they take you back to have a mammogram to see if they’re in the right area. They were close, but they still needed a few more tissue samples. My entire right side and chest were black and blue. I had to wait a few more days for the results.

The doctor then called us and asked us to come in, I’ll never forget that day or the look on his face. I had Stage 2 breast cancer, and they recommended a mastectomy. Because of my insurance I was not able to go to Utah’s renowned Huntsman Cancer Institute, I was, however, able to choose my plastic surgeon. I decided not to have a double mastectomy. If I had the chance to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing.

I did a lot of research and finally picked a wonderful female doctor. She was so kind and made me feel at ease. The day of my surgery my entire family was there. My neighbor brought a cooler full of food and drinks so that my family would not have to leave the waiting area.

They had me walk — yes walk — back to the OR. It was the biggest OR I had ever seen. I climbed on top of the cold table and thought, “This is it — my life will never be the same again.” The surgery lasted 12 hours due to complications. I remember waking up and thinking, “Oh my gosh, what happened? I can’t breathe.”

I was in the hospital for several days before being sent home. My family was amazing and my biggest support system. My husband never left my side and my kids and mom cooked, cleaned, and assisted with anything I needed. One week after my surgery, I developed a staph infection. It was such a long, slow recovery and I was depressed for several weeks. My friends and neighbors were amazing. They came over everyday to check on me and sometimes we would just sit and chat, while other times they would make me go out for a walk.

Some days were harder than others. I took a chemo pill everyday for 9 months. Some days I would be so sick and other days were great. I had my 9 month check-up, thinking things were great, when déjà vu hit me like a ton of bricks. I had cancer again in my other breast.

My first thought was, “How could this be happening again?” I was taking my chemo pill, and having my regular check ups. This time, I had decided to go out of network to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, one of the best cancer hospitals in the world.

My children were devastated. This time, they thought I was going to die. I did my best to calm my kids and remain calm myself. The day of the second surgery went much better and lasted only 4 hours. This recovery, however, was a lot harder. I had drains for 6 months and 8 different surgeries. I had to quit work and that’s when things started to fall apart. We lost our car and eventually our home. Finally, I started to feel better and went back to work part-time.

Today, it’s been six years since my last surgery and every year my family and I participate in Race for the Cure. It’s a great feeling being surrounded by such strong amazing women who have all conquered the same thing.

I understand because of medical expenses because of your cancer that you experienced financial hardship, including bankruptcy. How did you find the courage to persevere?

“I’m too young to die, I still have so much to do.” Those were my first thoughts. But then my husband and children gave me a wake up call. They amazed me everyday with their wonderful spirits. They have definitely learned and grown through all of this with me.

I racked up more than $200K in medical bills and had to file for medical bankruptcy. My family lost everything, including their homes and cars. It is a story that sadly, became an all too familiar side effect of being sick in America.

My life took a turn for the better, however, when I started working in the call center for Lexington Law and learned how I could help get my own finances back on track. Over the course of five years, Lexington Law worked to fix my credit, helping me remove more than 30 items on my credit report, including my bankruptcy. The repairs were like a miracle, and this past year, I was finally able to purchase a home and car.

How have you applied your experience as a cancer survivor to your daily life?

I live more in the moment now, I don’t take anything or anyone for granted. I’m more likely to do things in the spur of the moment. I also try not to sweat the small stuff. My family is everything to me.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Dealing with Cancer” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, all I could think about was, “Who will take care of my children if I die?” A close friend with breast cancer took me to lunch to reassure me that I wasn’t going to die. I also did not want to have a mastectomy. What would my husband think of me? She reassured me that he would still love me and I would still look and still feel beautiful. (She chose not to have a mastectomy. The cancer spread to her bones and unfortunately, she passed away.)
  2. Don’t feel bad if some of your friends aren’t there for you. There are some people who just can’t cope with cancer and they don’t know how to be there. Don’t feel bad.
  3. It’s okay to ask for help. Don’t try and be a superstar.
  4. Your kids will be ok. I was so worried about how my kids would feel. They were worried they were going to lose their mom. This was especially hard when I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. Make sure you spend all the time you can with them. I had a friend get them the popular “I love boobies” bracelets to support my cause. Their junior high school said that they couldn’t wear them to school. My kids stood up and said that wearing the bracelets was their way of supporting their mom with breast cancer. Needless to say, the school ultimately allowed them to wear the bracelets and my children got their friends them as well.
  5. My dear friend told me, “You’ll never be the same. Cancer changes you. Some people become bitter, don’t let this happen to you. Take charge of your life, I know you’re a fighter.” She was right!

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“You are good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough and strong enough. Believe it and never let insecurity run your life.”

I love this quote because I was so insecure at first. Now I know that I am strong and beautiful!

Some of the biggest names in Business, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to meet and why? He or she might just see this :-)

Ellen DeGeneres! I would love to meet Ellen because she overcame her minority status and became the most successful woman on television. My daughter is gay and I love that there’s such a strong, influential women for my daughter and others in the gay community to look up to. Not only is Ellen successful, but she is also hilarious and my family and I have always enjoyed watching her on TV for years.