“Help me not to let unexpected events throw me off course. Instead of getting upset or anxious, I want to respond calmly and confidently—remembering that You are with me.”
Jesus Listens, November 3
In the years since I found out I had cancer, plenty of people have asked me why I think I got sick in the first place. Why did this happen to me? Why does cancer happen to anyone?
I actually love that question, because it gives me a chance to share the story, once again, of my mother’s prophetic words. My simple answer is that this happened to me because I was chosen.
A Legacy of Firsts
If you know anything about me, it’s probably that I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to serve others by being a “first.” First Black senior class president of Kennedy High School in Richmond, California. One of the first Black cheerleaders at UC Berkeley. First Black sorority sister in our Delta Gamma chapter. First Black woman chair of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. First Black woman in a whole lot of boardrooms and leadership teams across the country. And today, first Black woman CEO of an NBA team. (Go, Mavs!)
But I’m not the first person to get cancer. Colon cancer like mine is the third most common cancer, and the American Cancer Society estimates that there are 150,000 new diagnosed cases of colorectal cancer every year. It’s also the second most fatal cancer in the United States, and it disproportionately affects our Black brothers and sisters. Every week, it seems as if there is another heartbreaking headline about a tragic loss.
I’m also not the first girl to grow up poor in the projects. Not the first daughter whose father threw punches. Not the first Black employee to be told she should change her looks, her voice, and herself if she wanted to advance. Not the first mother to grieve the death of her child.
My whole life story, when I look back at it, has shown me that there are rarely clear answers about why things happen in life. Sometimes that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is actually the headlight of an oncoming train headed right for you. I’ve experienced abuse, death, racism, and cancer, and so I understand bad things happen to good people, and getting mad, or sad, or discouraged by that doesn’t change anything.
By the time I found out about the nasty tumor in my colon, I had already been chosen for a lifetime full of stories about the ways the Lord provides. I’d been given blessings and opportunities beyond measure, but also my share of adversity.
And yes, there were a few days when I asked Him, did I really need one more? Did I need to put my family, my friends, and my co-workers through all of this? But the answer He gave me was always yes. Cancer was going to be the story that would serve the most people, and serving others is what I believe I was put here to do.
Acceptance and Glory
So I said okay, first to God and then to my mother, who had told me my diagnosis was for His glory. I dug down past that out-of-body feeling to find my own voice of power, and I started to use it. I committed to being open about whatever happened next—the good, the great, the bad, and the ugly. The emails and blog posts in my memoir, You’ve Been Chosen: Thriving Through the Unexpected, are the exact words that I wrote in the heat of the battle—complete with grammatical errors, inside references, and otherwise less-than-perfect communication.
I can’t tell you the story of finding the “CAN” in cancer without also telling you all about the other things the Lord chose to bring to me, and the parts of my story that prepared and equipped me for the fight of my life—which in this case was actually fighting for my life. I can look now and see how the adversity and the blessings built on one another. That’s what I hope you see in my story—what it has looked like for me to live and thrive through everything, what it has meant to keep my head up, no matter what, and, most of all, how each event prepared me for what came next.
Always a Plan
Bad things like cancer happen, but there’s always a plan. I may never understand it, because I can’t see the whole picture of how an individual’s past, present, and future work together, but that doesn’t mean the plan doesn’t exist. Painful things are often what lead us into places we’d never go otherwise.
So the question I needed to ask when I got cancer wasn’t why. That wouldn’t get me anywhere. That’s not my business.
The questions I needed to ask were: What will I do with what I have been given? How will I respond with grace? How will I respond with generosity? Where will this new path take me if I keep moving along it? And what can I take from this experience and offer back to the world as something good?
Working For Good
I hope that my story helps you see how all of your parts, even the hard parts, work together for good. I hope that wherever you are in life, you are encouraged to keep fighting the battle you’re fighting right now. I hope that our time together reminds you to find your own voice of power and to step up and advocate for yourself. And mostly, if you’ve lost hope, I’m here to show you that you can make it through a lot more than you might expect.
You, too, have stories and experiences to tap into that will help you. You, too, have been equipped for whatever you’re facing. You, too, have a choice in how you will respond. You, too, have been chosen.
Excerpted from You’ve Been Chosen: Thriving Through the Unexpected by Cynt Marshall. Copyright © 2022 by Cynthia Marshall. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About the Author
Cynt Marshall is the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, president and CEO of Marshalling Resources consulting, and the former SVP of human resources and chief diversity officer for AT&T. She is the first African American woman to hold the CEO role for any NBA team and was named one of the “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports” by Adweek, one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise magazine, and one of “15 of the World’s Most Inspiring Leaders” by Forbes. She is also an outspoken cancer survivor and regular speaker at cancer-related events. The fourth of six children, Marshall grew up in Richmond, California, and lives in the Dallas area. She and her husband, Kenneth, have four adult children.