Health & Wellness

She's embracing life, laughter and hope after second cancer diagnosis

Now being treated for breast cancer a second time, Janet Kelleher is embracing life and laughter, finding that humor, smiles and a positive outlook are the key to life.

“You work with what you have, and you’re grateful for it,” Kelleher told TODAY. “There’s really two choices, as I see it in life. These experiences can make you bitter or they can make you better.”

As part of TODAY’s #PinkPowerToday series, Kelleher spoke with Erica Hill for a story broadcast Thursday about finding the reasons to smile while fighting cancer.

“You just need to learn to laugh at yourself,” Kelleher said. “Whatever you do, I think you need to find fun in it. Just don’t be stuck in a situation.”

Kelleher, 62, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and was cancer free for 15 years after a lumpectomy. This past spring, she received a second breast cancer diagnosis. She had a mastectomy last week and is now recovering well.

Earlier this year, she decided to have some fun, and made national headlines in the process. Knowing that she would likely lose her hair during chemotherapy treatments, just as she had the first time around, she decided to get creative with her locks.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment, just off-the-cuff thing, spontaneous, like a lot of things I do,” she said. “I wanted to do something extraordinary with my hair, just for grins, just for fun.”

Her daughter, Sarah Kelleher, shaved the sides of her mom’s head, spiked it up in the middle and dyed it pink, fashioning an attention-grabbing neon pink “chemo-hawk.”

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“It looked really cute,” Sarah Kelleher says. “I loved it.”

Without telling her mom, Sarah posted photos of the new hairstyle on Reddit and her story spread.

“I couldn’t understand why MTV and BuzzFeed and all of these young websites were cashing in on that,” Kelleher said. “Why do they care?

“And then I figured out, just like when I was young and loved spunky old people, that’s still the same today,” she added.

It’s part of her effort to make the most of every day.

“I’m going to ride this body into the ground,” Kelleher said. “A life without scars is hardly a life at all.”

Her positivity is setting a strong example for Sarah, and her other daughter, Julie Hudson.

Sarah says that her mother has taught her the importance of having fun in life.

Hudson says she has learned from her mom that, “her humor and her optimism always can help anybody through anything.”

“You’re feeling down, you’re feeling awful, but you see my mom going through what she’s going through and she still has a smile on her face and she’s still laughing,” Hudson added.

Kelleher is thankful she has her daughters to laugh along with her during this second fight against breast cancer.

“They have kept me laughing during this last battle,” she says. “They’ve just been there for me this time and I’m very grateful.”

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