Last year, I was invited to a cocktail hour. In a room full of incredibly gifted, driven and kind women, Jennifer Lee Snowden stood out. There was something about her spirit. Something open, vulnerable and generous. So I decided I wanted to get to know her better. I’m so glad I did.
Jennifer is a phenomenal woman. She is wise, caring, intelligent and definitely funny. When you sit down with her you feel like you can just be yourself.
She is a classically trained pianist who started her training at 5 and now writes her own music no less. Talk about magical.
From all of this, what you wouldn’t know is that Jennifer has also already beat cancer, twice. I can’t even wrap my head around that. Your 30’s are when you should be planning momentous occasions in your life not fighting cancer.
The reality is, no one expects to get the news they have breast cancer, especially when they are so young. As a woman you think, well it’s something I am going to have to think about, but later in life. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here. Shockingly breast cancer is detected more and more in young women today. More so than you would think.
Instead of letting this experience get the better of her, she decided to learn and grow from it. There’s an inner strength to that level of awareness I’m not sure a lot of us can grasp.
Jennifer, I’m so glad I met you. I’m so glad to call you my friend. Thank you for your generosity in being a part of my blog and for opening yourself up. I know someone out there reading this is going to walk away stronger.
Getting the news you have breast cancer had to be shocking to say the least. By the time you were 35, you had already gone through it twice. You can now proudly call yourself a survivor.
What was one of the hardest mountains you had to climb, personally, during this journey?
One of the difficult things about cancer is that there are rarely any certainties. No one can tell you why you got it in the first place or whether they’re 100% sure they’ve gotten rid of every rogue cell. Even though I was diagnosed with a very, very early stage the first time around, I still had a small local recurrence 2 years later even after undergoing a double mastectomy. I’m lucky enough to have beaten it a 2nd time and to be declared cured and cancer-free. But doctors don’t often say those words with great confidence, which can send your mind down a bit of a rabbit hole if you let it. I’ve often said that some of my toughest battles were fought not with my body, but with my mind. Fear grows like weeds and it is a daily practice to root it out, to remain focused on the present moment, to trust in your healing and to plant seeds of gratitude and love in its place.
You’re keeping a blog and sharing your experience for other people who are fighting cancer as well. It’s not easy baring your soul, especially after traveling such a road. Why was this important for you to do?
I felt it was important for me to share my story because there are just so many women going through this. And even if you haven’t gone through it yourself, you likely know someone who has. It is such a life-altering journey and it can be comforting to hear how others express their emotions, both positive and negative. There are also so many things that come with the package as byproducts or side effects that don’t often get talked about. A lot of people suffer in silence believing that they are alone in their experience, when in reality, thousands of others are wading through the same muddy waters. The more we are willing to share, the more others feel comfortable to open their hearts as well, a conversation begins, deeper understanding can be found and that’s when really beautiful things start to happen.
I also feel that there are tremendous lessons that get learned when facing a life-threatening illness that can help others ask themselves the hard questions too easily avoided in life. Things like, “Am I truly spending my time on this planet in a way that fulfills me? And if not, what do I need to change?” What you value most has a way of snapping into focus when you are forced to consider your own mortality, but we should all be asking ourselves these kinds of questions every single day. Because the truth is, even though we don’t like to think about it, tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone. Every single day is a gift.
If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who may have just gotten the news for themselves, is in the midst going through treatment, or is now on the road to recovery but still has a lot of emotion and trauma of illness to deal with, what would it be?
Stay in the present moment as much as you possibly can. When your mind starts to wander and cling to thoughts from the past or paint terrifying pictures of the future, bring it back to the here and now. Cherish each moment as much as you can. Even in the painful and difficult ones that are full of discomfort, view them as opportunites to lean on and draw closer to the people you love. Meditation helped me immensely.
Also, when I was diagnosed the second time, I made a promise to myself that I would use the challenge as an opportunity to grow and to become stronger. I stopped trying to resist and instead invited the entirety of the experience into my life to teach me the lessons that I most needed to learn. And through doing this, I was able to transform so much of the pain and trauma into gratitude and power. Cancer was no longer something that was thrust upon me, that I just had to endure. I embraced it for all it had come to show me and allowed it to shake my very foundation so that I could rebuild on more solid ground. And while there were some incredibly difficult weeks and months, I can actually say that I am profoundly grateful to have gone through it. It made me stronger, more compassionate and more certain about the kind of life I want to continue living.
When it comes to family members and friends who are seeing their loved one on such a difficult road, what advice would you give them? What did you need the most as someone in the center of it all?
There are so many ways to answer this question but one thing is for sure; ASK! ASK how they are doing. ASK how they are feeling, ASK what you can do to support them. So many people are afraid to ask because they don’t want to bring up a tough subject. But in my experience, most people who go through hard times don’t want to avoid the elephant in the room. Show them that you are strong enough to handle the truth and that you aren’t just the kind of person that’s only there when times are good.
You’re now getting back to your music! As you plan your future, what is your vision for your work?
I want to be bolder with my work now. Less concerned about fitting into a specific box and more willing to just play. I’m really excited to put something new into the world and cultivate it. After spending a few years in the corporate world, I have the exciting opportunity to start at the beginning again, rediscover my sound and what I want to say as an artist. I also don’t want to focus too heavily on what the endgame looks like. Before it was so much about trying to get a record deal and “make it big.” But now I want to focus on the work and leave room for the universe to surprise me with how things develop. I have goals of course; certain venues I’d like to play, placing a song in a TV show or film and performing for a fashion show. I really want to perform for a fashion show! I would be great at that.
Chicken or egg?
I love eggs, so egg!
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I would love to speak every language of the world fluently. The ability to communicate with anyone and everyone would be tremendous!
Who has had the biggest influence in your life?
My parents and my husband. All three of them have shaped every facet of my life and the person that I am today. They are my biggest supporters and have undoubtedly made me a better person. And through the most difficult times of my life, they continue to clear the path in front of me so that there are a few less obstacles along the way.
What are you most proud of?
That life knocked me down more than once, but I got back up each time…and never let it keep me from singing and celebrating.
Do ghosts exist?
I have no idea, but I know there is so much more to the universe than what we currently understand in this three-dimensional reality….so I certainly think it is possible.
Being a musician yourself, what kind of music do you like? Who are you inspired by?
This list is so long and it changes regularly. I just love music. Sometimes I listen to Classical, sometimes Rock, R&B, Rap, Pop, Alternative and occasionally even a country song here and there. I can’t really say that there is one kind of music that I don’t like. It’s more about what you’re I’m in the mood for. I will say though, while it’s difficult to list my favorite artists because there are so many that I love…Bruce Springsteen will always hold a very special place in my heart. Some of his lyrics are so profound and man, The E Street Band was really something!
If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be?
Definitely Jesus. Regardless of religious views, I think it would be incredibly interesting to meet the man that inspired a worldwide, centuries-long belief system.
An existential question, if you got the chance to do life all over again, would you? And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned this go around.
This is a tough question when you really start thinking about it. The short answer is that I’m really happy with the life that I have, so I don’t feel like I would need to re-do it. But if I was like a cat and given the choice to have a couple of lives…yeah, why not. Living is beautiful thing. I’d be happy to do it again.