Forty-four-year-old Stephanie Simpson has earned a lot of labels: lawyer, Chief Administrative Officer, and nonprofit founder. However, it’s another one that has redefined her purpose: she’s a breast cancer survivor.
The diagnosis came in 2016 after she had just turned 41. “It was my second ever mammogram that had me called in for an ultrasound,” she says. “I assumed that the abnormal reading was just a mistake.”
There was little to give Stephanie an indication that she should be concerned with cancer. “I hadn’t noticed any symptoms, I had never smoked, and there was nothing in my family history that so much as hinted at it,” she says. The ultrasound led to a biopsy and, 24 hours later, Stephanie’s life took a much different direction.
Although a single, independent professional, she rallied a lot of support from her friends and family. This was the first time she had to truly rely on them, and they showed up as a true lifeline. “My friends and relatives were amazing. They rallied around me, offered to help with errands, cooked for me, and more.”
The diagnosis was a surprise and there were a lot of unknowns in Stephanie’s future, but she didn’t succumb to depression or grief. “My faith was always strong. I’m not a ‘woe is me’ kind of person.”
She worked with the medical team at West Cancer Center, including oncologist Lee Schwartzberg, surgeon Michael Berry, reconstructive surgeon Lou Adams, and radiation oncologist Michael Farmer. Stephanie made it a point to be practical about the process. Her surgery coincided with the Thanksgiving holiday to minimize missing days at work as the CAO of NewSouth Capital Management. Determined to keep her life as normal as possible, she scheduled her 20 rounds of radiation during lunchtime.
“Fortunately, I was in good shape when I was diagnosed. I had been doing Pure Barre. Once I started recovering, I went back to that three to four times a week, and later added biweekly Shred415 workouts for additional cardio, core, and toning.” She found that exercise helps counteract some of the side effects of the ongoing medicine she has to take. Although there are many aspects of our health we can’t control, such as DNA, Stephanie says we can control other factors such as diet.
“It’s all about balance,” she says. Her diet includes a lot of healthy foods like salads with added protein, and she still enjoys an occasional treat. And as a true Southerner, her indulgence is sweet tea.
Of course, the biggest change cancer has brought is to Stephanie’s mindset. “Battling cancer allowed me to reevaluate my own priorities and come to terms with what I want my life to be about. I’m far more intentional with my time. For example, if I’m stuck in traffic or waiting in line, I take these opportunities to breathe and enjoy the moment instead of feeling frustrated.”
Stephanie says that when someone is diagnosed with cancer, they’re ultimately fighting for more time. “In order for our time on earth to have deep meaning, we have to live below the surface.”
Stephanie found a new purpose after her diagnosis and recovery. She created a nonprofit called 901 POP (Petals of Purpose), which accepts donations of flowers from weddings, parties, and other events to repurpose into bouquets for nursing homes and homeless shelters, with handwritten notes and personal deliveries.
“We need to tell people we love them and care about them,” she says. After a reflective moment, she concludes, “This quote from George Meredith sums up my philosophy, ’Don’t just count your years. Make your years count.’”
To learn more about 901 POP (Petals of Purpose), check out:
By Caroline Sposto
Photo by Tindall Stephens