Before I ever met Michelle Grinsel, I’d heard heaps about her. We’re both in that small and scary club of people under 40 with life-threatening cancer, so from close friends and casual acquaintances to coworkers and complete strangers, the message was the same: “Do you know Michelle? She works at Patagonia. She is unbelievable. You have to meet her. You guys need to talk to each other.”
So when we finally did get together for a cup of tea at the Lucky Llama in Carpinteria late last year, I thought I knew what I was getting into. But I had no idea. She was far better than advertised. In fact, my approach to life has not been the same since.
A decade ago, Michelle found out that she had the BRCA gene mutation, a twist of genetic fate that gave her an 80 percent higher risk of getting breast cancer and 60 percent higher chance of ovarian cancer. She took all the steps necessary to safeguard herself, but it didn’t matter: Two years ago, the mother of two’s world was turned upside down when doctors told her that she had breast cancer. With her husband, Mark, by her side, she charged forward into 15 months of chemo, a double mastectomy, radiation therapy, and the removal of 18 lymph nodes.
The treatments seemed to work, but then word came last June that the cancer was back, and it had spread to her lungs — Stage IV breast cancer. No one would blame Michelle if she simply curled up in a ball and pulled the plug on living a full life, but that’s not Michelle. Far from it. She’s continued to work as the global merchandising director for Patagonia, adventure near and far with her family, and inspire all around her with her personal doctrine of living and loving entirely in the now all while maintaining her steadfast fight against a most cruel disease.
“When you face your own mortality, you get very clear on your life,” she told me. “Every day, I have a choice with my attitude. Everybody does, whether they have had a life-threatening diagnosis or not. I can’t cope with this when I’m in the past or the future, but when I choose gratitude and make the disciplined decision to enjoy every drop of life, that is my sweet spot. That is where I live. Gratitude brings me directly into the moment … I would only go back to my old life if I could take these new sensibilities with me.”
A documentary about Michelle Grinsel’s life, One Way: A Journey to This Moment, will premiere during SBIFF on Wednesday, February 10, at 5:40 p.m. at Metro 4 and again on Saturday, February 13. See oneway-journey.com.