Inspiring women like Elizabeth Smart and Tara Miller survived abuse and disease, and turned their trauma into an opportunity to help others
It's not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters. Greek sage Epictetus may have said those words 2000 years ago, but it says a lot about the human experience that this would sound just as true in any modern day pop song. (Paging Taylor Swift!) The truth is bad things happen to all of us. But it takes a special person to not only find the silver lining in the storm cloud, but make umbrellas and hand them out to everyone near the storm. Here, we introduce you to six amazing women doing just that.
What happened: When Heather Lynette Sinclair's therapist sexually assaulted her during a session, the trauma was compounded by the reason she was seeing a therapist in the first place: her history of childhood sexual abuse. Rather than falling apart however, Sinclair used the double betrayal to get her therapist's license revoked.
What she did about it: During the process of trying to get his license revoked, she discovered her therapist had served prison time for sex crimes, and was horrified to learn there were no criminal background checks for mental health. So she proposed Lynette's Law, a two-bill piece of legislation that requires criminal background checks for mental health workers and criminalizes sexual exploitation in therapy. HB 56 passed in Maryland in 2013. To help spread her movement to other states, Heather is starting a non-profit organization known as the National Alliance Against Exploitation by Professionals (NAAEP).
What happened: At just 14 years old, Elizabeth Smart made national news when she was kidnapped at knife-point from her bedroom. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief when she was found nine months later—until we heard what the young girl went through while being held captive. She was raped, tortured, threatened with death, and brainwashed to the point where she barely knew who she was anymore.
What she did about it: Smart used her harrowing experience to reach out to other victims, first by speaking to Congress in support of sexual predator legislation and the AMBER alert program. Now, she's a correspondent for ABC news and runs The Elizabeth Smart Foundation to help other young victims heal from sex trafficking.
What happened: The storm of tornadoes in Indiana hit fast and hard but Stephanie Decker was faster, sprinting across the house to save her children just as a beam crashed down on all of them. But while she saved her two kids, she lost both her legs to the twister.
What she did about it: Never one to let life get her down, the runner returned to chasing her dreams and her kids with her new prosthetic legs. Wanting to share her joy, she combined her two loves—children and athletics—and started the Stephanie Decker Foundation, partnering with NubAbility Athletics to help kids with missing limbs compete in sports and attend sport camps.
What happened: When Tara Miller found a small bump behind her ear, she assumed it was nothing but dutifully went to the doctor to have it checked out just in case. Unfortunately, the small bump was a melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, and in less than a year had metastasized to 18 tumors in her brain and lungs.
What she did about it: Just 29 years old, Miller had never even thought about cancer. She knew other people her age likely hadn't either, so she started the Tara Miller Foundation to spread awareness about melanoma and raise money for research. Sadly, she passed away in October 2014 from her illness, but her foundation continues to carry on her life's work.
What happened: After being diagnosed with breast cancer at 35, Lesley Jacobs kept hearing, "You're too young to have cancer!" Going through chemo, losing her hair, and having surgery while being a young breast cancer patient, she says, made her feel like "the pink elephant in the room."
What she did about it: Realizing that she couldn't be the only one under 40 going through this, she started the Pink Elephant Posse to bring together other young cancer survivors. Their motto is to inspire, empower, and connect young people affected by cancer through exciting events, photo shoots and social media.
What happened: Patrick Sawyer was the first American to die of Ebola after catching the disease in West Africa during the height of the 2014 epidemic. The lawyer passed away just one day after being diagnosed and left behind three very young daughters and a grieving wife, Decontee Kofa Sawyer.
What she did about it: Decontee was devastated by the sudden loss of her husband but she quickly realized that many more widows would be joining her as the disease continued to spread like wildfire. So she started the Kofa Foundation to bring bleach, gloves and other medical supplies along with support to the hardest hit areas in Africa.