Success Stories By Dick Kazan - Valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Published on Tue June 28, 2005

     Like many people, you may be focused on imperfections in your appearance – and not see your inner beauty. If so, I’d like to tell you the story of Lucy Grealy who at the age of nine, learned she had facial bone cancer and a five percent chance of survival.


     Grealy began the first of thirty surgeries to treat the cancer and restore her face. She endured chemotherapy and radiation, pain, vomiting, hair loss, and disfigurement, included having half her jaw dissolved by the time she was 14 years old. But she survived the cancer.


     New York based Grealy, one of five daughters, depended on her family for support. But her father didn’t know how to comfort her. Her mother and sisters helped but her mother had bouts of depression that sometimes limited her involvement. Adding to her problems, Grealy was racked with guilt for the tension her illness caused the family and for the arguments over the cost of her treatments. But what made Grealy feel worst of all was the ridicule of her appearance by others. She said, “The cancer seemed minor by comparison” and she saw herself as “unlovable.”  


    The key for Grealy to bear her pain was her many close friendships. Because Grealy had been tortured by loneliness and despair, she understood those feelings in others and she took a sincere interest in them. Her best friend, Ann Patchett wrote in New York, “Lucy had a genius for friendship. She was able to offer up the deepest part of herself over and over again to people she liked, and in return, we were willing to do anything for her.”


     After her college graduation and graduate work, the very popular Grealy became an award-winning poet, authored three books and taught at several distinguished colleges. She shared with others her love for literature and poetry and her joy for shooting pool.   


     However, this is not a story book ending. Through the reconstructive surgeries, doctors took bone and tissue from various parts of Grealy’s body and it caused her body to ache. To numb the pain, she took pain killers and became addicted to them and later, to heroin. Like her mother, she too suffered from bouts of depression and her life ended at 39 in 2002.    


     But Grealy had courageously risen above superficial perceptions of beauty. Her story reminds us there are far more important aspects to life than minor flaws in appearance and it encourages us to open our hearts to others and reassures us that many of them will open their hearts to us in return.    


     In the next KazanToday: Advice from an oilman who made, lost and made vast fortunes.

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2005 Kazan Today