Cancer Saved My Life, The Journey of Becoming my Authentic Self, TEDxVaughanWomen

Cancer Saved My Life
The Journey of Becoming my Authentic Self
Presentation by Jennifer Ladouceur

I grew up not being my Authentic Self, instead believing what the world was telling me that I was:

Would need a man to take care of me,
Just simply never good enough, and
Destined for failure.

I defined myself based on “what the world told me I was”. Instead of living a life based on “who I was created to be”.

I was ashamed of my true self.

Today, for the first time in my life, I am going to be publicly sharing, some of my painful secrets.

Secrets I went to great lengths to hide from the world.

The beginning of my Journey

I was born in September of 1975.

I was told I was a beautiful baby, but then again my family is bias.

Everything looked good from the outside; but unfortunately there was something very wrong inside.

For the first few months of my life I would frequently stop breathing and my parents would have to do CPR to breathe life back into me.

This was something that was extremely difficult for my mother to handle, as she dealing with being diagnosed with:

Manic depression,
Schizophrenia, and

Having a difficult baby with yet another stress and challenge in her life.

Looking at my childhood, it was a very challenging time in my life. While I grew-up my mother was in and out of mental health hospitals.

She even told me that she wanted to end her life.

Knowing this made me want to try so hard to be good, terrified I would push her over the edge; which meant I was afraid to be my Authentic Self or speak my mind for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing.

I never knew what kind of mood my mother would be in when I came home and it would make me feel so anxious.

When she was home the energy in the house was always either extremely happy and she would allow us to do crazy things like write all over the walls with magic markers in order to force my dad to allow her to re-wallpaper the hallway.

Or I was faced with an energy I can only describe as dark and terrifying.

Making me feel like I wanted to become invisible, I would want to escape the real world and hide. I would escape for hour’s day dreaming, curled up in my closet in my bedroom where I had created a little oasis away from life.

I was terrified to be myself for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing.

Being my authentic self wasn’t an option.

Facing Significant Learning Challenges

Making things worse, school was getting incredibly hard for me and no longer became an escape from the negativity at home.

I didn’t understand why. I just wasn’t able to read like my friends. I would pray the teacher didn’t pick me and my heart would drop when I was selected and would have to read, because I was afraid of looking stupid in front of my friends.

I haven’t admitted this to anyone publicly until now, but when I was around nine years old I was diagnosed with dyslexia.

I was ashamed of myself every single time I was pulled out of the regular class
for special help. All the kids knew why I was being taken out and in my head I imagined what they were probably saying about me.

From that point forward I labeled myself as being “stupid”.

Detached from my Authentic Self

What I realize now is that I detached completely from my Authentic Self, as a way to coop with the pain and embarrassment.

I felt broken.

I didn’t want anyone to know the real me. I hated who I was and I had silenced my own voice.

Moments of Strength

Despite hating myself, I did have moments of strength and an extraordinary ability to do things that scared me.

Perhaps because I was so use to failure, I was no longer afraid of it.

I clearly remember being curious, creative, confident and intuitive.

I always saw unique solutions to difficult problems.

For fun, I would pretend I was an author and write pages and pages of copy, I always from a young age dreamed of publishing my own book.

I would share these unsolicited stories with some of my teachers.

It didn’t matter you see if the stories were good.

I was willing to risk and had moments of bravery, despite all the challenges I faced.

I also had a passion for public speaking and while still in grade school. I jumped at the opportunity to speak.

Yes, I know crazy someone who is dyslexic and sees words on a page all rumbled up, actually having a desire to be a public speaker. But I did.

Although I only ended up winning my school level, only because everyone else in my class hated public speaking; it’s hard to lose to yourself, I still got up there, in front of the entire school and read my speech.

I embraced from a young age doing things that scared me.

Challenging Teenage Years

The teenage years were particularly difficult for me. I went into a depression and I felt lost. I had no idea “who I was” or “what I was meant to do” in life.

Despite my learning challenges, I sill had a dream for future and a strong desire to attend university and even obtain an MBA.

I wanted to prove to others and myself that I was intelligent and would achieve something in my life.

I felt like if people could see “MBA” behind my name, they would think of me differently.

Unfortunately, not everyone in my life believed I could do it and instead encouraged me to consider college, encouraging me to lower my expectations for my future.

I started to give up on myself and began lowering my expectations.

I was on a very self-destructive path and began searching in all the wrong places for love and acceptance.

Major Turning Points in My Life

My life took a turn for the worst when I was 17. I couldn’t take being yelled at every day at home and while still struggling in high school.

I decided to leave home. My parents had separated by this time, so my plan was to live with my father.

Only problem was when I called him to ask if I could live with him, his immediate response was “no”.

He told me I was being selfish leaving my sister alone with my mother.

He wanted me to go back and protect her. So here I was, all my worldly belongings stuffed into bags and essentially homeless.

I couldn’t go back home, I wasn’t able to live one more day feeling like I had be perfect or be yelled at.

I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful best friend who took me in
and then finally I moved in with my nana.

Being Diagnosed with Cancer

Just when I didn’t think it could get worse it did. I was having a lot of pain in my lower back and ended up going to the hospital, where they found a cyst on my ovary.

I was told to not worry and that once it was removed I would be fine.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When I woke up from surgery, with my best friend’s mother by my side, the doctor came in to give me an update.

Turns out it wasn’t just a cyst; it was actually a cancerous tumor the size of a baseball on my ovary.

It was an aggressive cancer, requiring an aggressive chemo treatment.

They also told me the chances of ever getting pregnant were very low since they had removed one of my ovaries.
Receiving hours of chemotherapy treatments every single morning, one week on and two weeks off for months.

Each morning they would come to get me from my hospital bed, bring me down to the chemo department, which was in the basement.

I would have to pass the laundry room every single morning and smell the clean laundry.

To this day, the smell of clean linen makes me want to gag.

Finding Strength

I remember being very strong and not breaking down or crying.

In my mind I felt like I would break down the day that I lost my hair.

I was a teenager with long beautiful hair and at that time appearances mattered to me, so much so that I actually purchased a wig in advance so that I would have something to wear immediately should the day come.

Well it came. I remember waking up with hair on my pillow.

It was coming out so easily. I could grab a chunk of my hair and simply pull it out, without even having to pull very hard.

I remember running into the living room, curling up on my nana’s lap and bursting into tears as I told her “my hair was falling out”. She was so loving and supportive.

After a few minutes of just hugging my nana so tightly, I called my best friend and She immediately came over. After a little cry, we did something amazing.

We had some fun with it. We went into the bathroom and started cutting and shaving all my hair off. Doing wild and crazy hairstyles.

It was one of the most empowering things I have ever done in my life.

So there I was, bald and it was okay. I was still myself just will a little less hair.

Then I was faced with another dilemma. I had a date that night I had forgotten about and was faced with the decision of what I was going to wear on my head.

I am proud to say… I didn’t wear anything!

From that moment on appearances became not as important as what’s inside.

A New Perspective on Life

Okay so this might be really surprising to you, but having cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

You see I had no hope for my future anyway.

So when I found myself sitting in this lazy boy chair, listening to music for hours, while poison was seeping into my veins. I would daydream and look out the window and think. My high school was located immediate across from the hospital.

From a little window down in the basement, I was able to see the kid’s walking to school each morning and wished I were one of them.

It was in those moments that I earned an appreciation for life.

I learned that at any moment you could be taken out of life.

I was forced to sit on the sidelines and only allowed to watch everyone else continue to live.

Having cancer, was so restrictive, I was forced to stop.

But, having dyslexia or any other challenges I was facing in my life was all of a sudden not as debilitating.

This was a powerful revelation.

I beat cancer!

I was in remission and had returned to high school after taking a year off.

Gaining Inspiration and Determination from Challenges

Life wasn’t done with giving me difficult lessons to learn from in my journey.

Remember how I told you the doctors said I was not able to have children?

Well turns out I proved them wrong.

At the age of only 18, I discovered I was pregnant.

This was a wonderful blessing, but terrifying at the same time.

I was so scared, but determined to make a good life for my baby.

We did what we thought at the time was the right thing to do and got married.

A marriage that didn’t last.

Success & Achievements Despite the Challenges

Determined to make it, during my 20’s and 30’s I worked extremely hard to become successful, or at least what I deemed at the time was success.

I worked full-time, went to school part-time and raised my children as a single mother for periods of it, balancing family responsibilities, working full-time and attending school part-time.

I am very proud to say that not only did I go to college as my mother predicted, studying journalism, public relations and marketing.

I also attended university and earned among many other designations, my MBA.
I was even able to complete my final elective course for my MBA in Germany.

I also earned national and international Economic Development designations; in fact I earned 100% on one of the final exams, the best grade they have ever given for a written essay ever.

I also established a successful career and gained amazing experience working in the private sector at investment banking firm, Canadian Opera, among other companies; as well as, the public sector in the field of Economic Development working for leading cities in Canada.

Not only that I succeeded in building my own business, opening offices across Canada and profitably selling the business to a large multinational tax firm in the US.

I had achieved and acquired all the things that other people associate with success.

I even won national and provincial marketing and economic development awards.

Something was Still Missing

But I never felt like a success, nor did I feel truly happy because I still wasn’t living a truly authentic life.

I was a work-a-holic and still constantly fighting to prove to people that I was good enough.

My Father’s Death – Another Major Turning Point in My Life

Another major milestone in my life made me realize I was going in the wrong direction, despite all the success.

It was early in the morning and I was heading downstairs to eat breakfast, when my oldest daughter called me to tell me that my father had died in a motorcycle accident.

I immediately broke down in tears. I loved my father and he really was there for me while I was a child and as an adult. He loved my children so much and was a kind and loving soul.

This was another major turning point in my life, because it led me to take the final steps towards becoming my Authentic Self.

I held so much guilt from having become a “work-a-holic” in order to become the person society deems as successful.

Only to be faced with the reality of how short life was.

I had an overwhelming sense of guilt for not making time for what was really important in my life, like spending time with my father and my family.

It was from that point on that I stopped!
I just stopped and began to really live in the moment.

Beginning a New Journey of Self-Discovery

I took the time to really understand who I was.

What was important to me in my life?

What did I want in my life, and what was my purpose?

I gained the strength and confidence to no longer be ashamed of who was and who I wasn’t.

I came to the realization that I couldn’t hide my true self one minute longer.

I was so fearful that if people knew the real me that they might judge me differently.

They might read something I wrote and become more critical, they might dismiss my new ideas or think that I am not worthy.

I knew in my heart I needed to reconnect with my purpose.

Taking Control of My Life & Become an Entrepreneur Again

So, I made the decision to resign from my position as the Director of Economic Development & Cultural Services at one of Canada’s fastest growing municipalities and follow my passions and once again became an entrepreneur. I launched a new business dedicated to supporting women called Pozentivity Inc.

Here’s the incredible thing.

When I let it out in a personal blog that I posted on my new website.

All of a sudden it felt like this huge weight that I had been carrying with me all these years was gone.

For the first time in my life, I began to experience what it felt like to be more authentic.

I quickly came to the realization that it was no longer what other people labeling me as.
In fact, the people around me were all impressed and inspired with.

What I have been able to accomplish personally and professionally.
I was my own worst critic.

Today, I am proud of who I am and have found my purpose.

I am committing the rest of my life to making a positive difference in the lives of women, helping other women to reconnect with their Authentic Selves.

Living My Life Purpose

Part of the process of getting to know your self better, is connecting with other women.

The more we share with others who we are, the more vulnerable and honest we are, the more we get to know about ourselves.

I believe it is only when we are at peace with “who we are” that we can truly be happy and successful.

I would like to end on a quote from Oprah Winfrey, “I know for sure: Your journey begins with a choice to get up, step out, and live fully.”

Living fully is what I plan on doing for the rest of my life.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my personal story.

You Go Girl!



About Being Your Authentic Self

Being Your Authentic Self, Living an Authentic Life requires:

Understanding who you are and who you are not
Embracing your uniqueness, strengths and weaknesses
Living the life you dream of for yourself
Fearlessly speaking your mind and taking purposeful action
Loving and accept yourself completely

Being your Authentic Self is the only way to achieve success, happiness and fulfillment in your life.