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40 and counting…

by Leigh Hurst

I turned 40 last year. That’s right, the big FOUR-ZERO. Although getting older has never really bothered me, I have to admit, birthdays that mark the beginning of a new decade in my life always make me sit up and pay attention a bit more than the others. I guess it’s because those birthdays seem to matter more; matter more to me? Or matter more to others? Not sure. But either way, somehow the passing of a decade certainly makes me feel like I should have something to show for all of that time. In reflecting on the last decade of my life, quite a bit has happened for me. I resigned from the corporate rat race, became an ex-urbanite and a small town returnee, went from being an apartment dweller to a homeowner, was diagnosed with breast cancer and survived, learned how to quiet the overachieving part of my brain, started a non-profit with a crazy name, married a childhood crush, became a step-mother to wonderful little girl and, last but not least, a mother to an incredible black pug named Janet. Not bad for 10 years (says my overachieving brain…ok, so I still have some work to do in that area).

But as I consider all that has happened, perhaps what I’m most proud of are the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I’ve learned how to be confident and aware about what is important to me, regardless of what other people think. Surely that’s a lesson we’re taught at an early age but sometimes takes, well, in my case, four decades to embrace. I’ve also learned the delicate balance of knowing when to trust authority and knowing when to trust your gut. This lesson came through loud and clear when my breast cancer diagnosis confirmed that the lump I felt was cancer even though doctors missed it. Now don’t get me wrong, I still trust the authority of doctors, I just have a heightened trust of my own intuition when it comes to knowing that something is wrong.

By and large, medical authorities still overwhelmingly agree that screening mammograms should begin at age 40. I trust that guideline and am the first to remind anyone I can to follow it (just ask my friends…I’m the annoying one at all of our birthday celebrations bugging everyone to schedule theirs). But I also know from experience that the other part of the equation boils down to knowing your body and being proactive. Lumps happen! They don’t care if you’re 30, or if you just had your mammogram, or if you just had your annual checkup. They’re naughty like that.

So, if you’re 40, don’t question authority—schedule your mammogram. But regardless of what age you are, “feel your boobies” and trust your gut!

Leigh Hurst will speak at the 2011 Massachusetts Conference for Women in a session titled “Second Acts: Real-World Stories of Reinvention.” After surviving her own breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 33 (in 2004), Leigh Hurst created Say Something Big® as a way to share her inspirational story with others. Learn more at