Cherry Hill resident Norma Roth could have viewed her 2004 breast cancer diagnosis as a death sentence, but as she likes to say, she views it as a life sentence instead.
Now, a decade later, that diagnosis has taken Roth from business manager for her husband’s accounting practice to published author, public speaker, freelance writer and breast cancer awareness advocate.
Roth’s story begins in 2004 after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer and had a bilateral mastectomy.
Although Roth remains cancer free to this day, soon after her diagnosis and operation, she learned that a former boss, Carolyn O’Donnell, had passed away from metastatic breast cancer — the same type of cancer Roth’s mother had passed away from a decade prior in 1994.
Although she hadn’t been in contact with O’Donnell in some time, her death, similar to that of her mother, combined with her own recent battle with cancer, lead to her deciding that the story of women with breast cancer and their supporters needed to be told.
With a background in communications that had gone to the wayside when she started working at her husband’s business, Roth soon found herself writing not just a few stories, but an entire book.
“At one point after my breast cancer, and all these other women I knew in my life were dying from it, I thought ‘I’m going to write a book. I’m going to write inspiring stories of some of these women I know,’” Roth said. “Then it just snowballed into I’m going to write a book, which I’d never done before. “
Roth started by tracking down O’Donnell’s son in Florida for an interview, and from there, she said she found more stories by word of mouth suggestions from people she knew, even interviewing several of her own doctors.
Her work culminated in 2010 with the publishing of her book “Pink Ribbon Journey.”
The book features the interweaving stories of breast cancer survivors, family members and the medical professionals who care for them, told through their voices. Also included throughout to help tell the stories are photos by Cherry Hill photographer Lesha Moore.
Having self published the book, Roth estimates she’s sold more than 2,000 copies.
“I published that and it’s never been done before, that kind of format, so that was really nice,” Roth said. “You can have the same diagnosis, but the journey could be completely different, and that’s what the book shows, and also the resilience of all of the people and the family members.”
After publishing the book, Roth started getting asked at book signings to speak at various organizations, which lead to her new role as a breast cancer awareness advocate.
“People would say ‘we want you to come and talk at our organization,’ so then I just started speaking about breast cancer awareness,” Roth said. “I have this whole women’s wellness thing I do now, and healthy living, because I’m really into the healthy and sustainable component part of the prevention of breast cancer.”
On May 30, Roth was the guest cancer survivor speaker at the Relay for Life of Mt. Laurel event. It was Roth’s second time as a Relay survivor speaker after having done so in 2012, and she views her chance to speak at events such as the Relay as a great honor and yet another example of all the wonderful things that have surprisingly come from her breast cancer.
“It’s really been an incredible journey,” Roth said. “When I think about all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way because of my breast cancer, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without them in it. I’m all about turning it into a positive, because otherwise, it can’t all just be doom and gloom.”