Maximize Every Possibility

In this Monday, Oct. 10, 2011 photo, the box for a Sephora Collection Pink Eyelash Curler is displayed in Philadelphia. Advoc
In this Monday, Oct. 10, 2011 photo, the box for a Sephora Collection Pink Eyelash Curler is displayed in Philadelphia. Advocates are asking whether breast cancer awareness has lost its focus, and become more about marketing than women’s health. Pinkwashing, a word coined by activists, is a practice being described as when a company or organization does a pink breast cancer promotion, but at the same time sells and profits from pink-theme products. But pink ribbon groups say such sales help to fund millions of dollars of research to find cures for the disease. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

With breast cancer awareness month in the rearview mirror and with New Year's resolutions looming, I wanted to share some perspective about maximizing one's potential, thanks to my mother.

There are some moments in life that I can replay in slow motion: the moment my mother told me she had breast cancer is one of those moments. The diagnosis was neither early nor easy. It was she who felt something was wrong -- more of an intuition than anything else -- but doctors kept telling her that she was exaggerating and everything was perfectly fine. It was only after she got a third opinion that breast cancer was identified.

We've come a long way in thirty years, but the fact that 1 out of every 8 of us will develop breast cancer in our lifetime is truly sobering.

After my mother's first radical mastectomy, she looked thin and weak, a shocking contrast to the dynamic, energized woman I knew as my mother.

But while this frightening disease and even more frightening "cure" were attacking her body, the process had a dramatic and very different effect on her soul and her psyche. Never one to sit around and smell the flowers, cancer sent my mother into overdrive. Her recovery was a personal call to arms to explore those things in life that she had always wanted to do, but never managed to get to.

A professional cellist, she had always wanted to play the piano. Piano lessons began!

Gifted with her hands, she had always wanted to work with clay. Pottery classes began!

Loving the stage, she had always wanted to dance. Tap dancing lessons began!

A gregarious, friendly person, sharing her new-found zest for living with other cancer patients was a no-brainer, and her stellar work as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society began!

And, when her cancer recurred, she managed to squeeze the treatment in between tap dancing recitals and "throwing" a set of plates for me.

Somehow, cancer became secondary to her strong hold on life and her unwavering zeal to get to every one of her dreams.

These days, her latest passion is playing bridge, but she'll happily tap dance upon request.

Marin Alsop is Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra and the Cabrillo Music Festival. She is a regular contributor to NPR where she discusses classical music with Scott Simon.