Photo by: Tan Wei

Who Chiseled that Over the Door? Challenging Assumptions. Creating Possibilities.

by Merit Gest
Photo by: Tan Wei

Ten yeas ago, the assumption was that to find your buddies from high school and connect with them you would have to spend a lot of time doing research by phone. Now, Facebook has created new possibilities to connect people all over the world in moments.

Going back a little farther in time, here’s another assumption that’s changing — and it’s definitely more serious. Twenty years ago, if your mother died from breast cancer, you may have assumed that you were more likely to die from the disease as well. Now genetic testing and preventative surgeries are giving women options to outlive their mothers.

As someone who faced a double threat from both ovarian and breast cancer, I ask myself this question a lot: What’s not possible today that may be possible tomorrow?

I thank my dad for this innate sense of possibility.

Growing up, anytime that I said something like, “I can’t get an A in chemistry,” He had the same answer. “Who chiseled that over the door?”

“Dad, I’m too young to be a sales manager.”

“Dad, you can’t return something after 30 days without a receipt.”

“Dad, I have a 54 percent risk of getting ovarian cancer.”

“Who chiseled that over the door?”

Asking that question over and over throughout my life means that I am constantly challenging assumptions and creating new possibilities.

In 2010, with the news of a genetic mutation on my BRCA 1 gene, the assumption was that I had a 54 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer and I was 87 percent likely to get breast cancer in my lifetime.

After asking the question, I focused on three things. I got clear about what really drives my decisions, I revived my sense of optimism that things will work out and I took initiative and chose to become a “pre-vivor.” Those three things were the keys to new possibilities.

First, I got clear about what drives every decision I make. Anything you can do to help you distill your core values is a good first step when making a decision. The first decision, to do everything possible to aggressively change the path of my health was easy when referenced against my values: legacy, connection, making a difference, freedom and health.

Second, I revived my sense of optimism. With any bad news it’s hard to immediately think from a place of optimism. People come out of the woodwork to tell you their horror stories. Not wanting to be “Pollyanna” about the topic, but also not willing to hear stories of doom and gloom, I made a choice to focus on getting the data I would need to
ensure a positive outcome. There is no shortage of amazing women to talk to who had been down the path and felt fantastic in the end.

You can only make decisions based on the information you have and while the internet makes it easier to search, medical lingo makes it difficult to understand. It was only after consulting with more than twenty women, nine surgeons and reading countless posts in chat rooms on, Be Bright, and several other sites that I felt totally comfortable that I was asking the right questions, uncovering all my options and able to make the best decisions for me.

Getting a second opinion from a surgeon (well, a fifth opinion in my case) led me to a much better decision for me. Hey, I didn’t marry the first guy I dated, I wasn’t about to let the first surgeon I met take out my uterus! Second opinions are important to this process – and if you’re not convinced, see this great video at Give Me a

Third, I took action to fight the cancer as if I already had the diagnosis and as a result became a “pre-vivor.” Cancer survivors bravely fight and win the battle against their disease. Pre-vivors fight the same battle, but they do it before the cancer shows up to the party.

Of course, not all women will make the same choice I made, but all women can take the time to get a second opinion.

In the end, it worked. Today, my risk of both cancers is less than 2 percent. I don’t know what will kill me, but I have a pretty good idea of what won’t.

Chisel THAT over the door.

Merit Gest teaches people how to become Possibility Thinkers at conferences around
the globe.

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