Marisa Peters: Embracing Wellness in the Face of Adversity
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver
I’ve come to the edge of losing my life. Twice. And all during my time serving as Chief People Officer at VideoAmp since the Fall of 2019. I’ve questioned why we have to stare in the face of extreme adversity to realize the gravity of the moments we share in each other’s lives – especially the moments at work.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. I never knew about it before. But I should have. At age 39, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Rectal Cancer and overnight realized the symptoms I had were not typical. I had been reporting bleeding to many doctors yet was never tested and it was dismissed as being related to childbirth, leaving me overlooked by doctors for 5.5 years. I was unheard and dismissed in medical settings until June 2021, when a 5 cm tumor was discovered during a colonoscopy.
The battle ahead was clear – my husband, Josh, and I told our kids everything from the day we found out, naming the tumor Earl after The Chicks song “Goodbye Earl”. I immediately let everyone at the company know of my diagnosis and certainly didn’t realize I would have 11 months of treatment to follow. At the time, I just didn’t want people to think that I didn’t care about them if I was late responding to an email. I didn’t want people to question the quality of my work, standards and ability. Because I was fighting for my life and it didn’t feel right to me to hide or edit how I was feeling.
I worked full time taking two weeks off after my last surgery. I took calls during infusions right until the point my neuropathy and nausea would get so strong I had to go offline. I wore my chemo pump to the office on days I felt good enough to be around other people, giving me positive energy and inspiration. Through my journey, we grew the company 53% from 2021 to 2022 to more than 500 people on staff with revenue consistently increasing as VideoAmp transforms the way advertising is valued, bought and sold. The stories we tell across all forms of media transform the world around us — a responsibility I’ve taken seriously since a young age knowing my purpose is to make a difference in the world and in other people’s lives.
So earlier this month, I noticed celebrities wearing blue ribbons in honor of Colorectal Cancer as I watched the Oscars and saw fresh and vibrant diversity in every way on the screen. Transformation is real. I’ve been cancer free for the last nine months though left with side effects that could have been avoided with earlier diagnosis, including being unable to have more children, not to mention the challenges and scars of the aggressive treatment. From 1995 to 2019, new cases of colorectal cancer nearly doubled from 11 percent to 20 percent for Americans younger than 55. The disease has become the leading cause of cancer deaths for Americans 20 to 49 years old, according to the National Cancer Institute. I could only be so lucky to be here today to tell my story in the hopes of inspiring people to advocate for themselves. Many people do not get this chance.
The story of Arthur Sadoun, CEO of Publicis Groupe, and the launch of #WorkingWithCancer invites companies to take the pledge to support people through cancer treatment to make a full recovery. Keeping a normal routine was a critical part of my medical treatment and my passion is working with people and businesses to evolve the way we work and live. VideoAmp supported me working throughout my entire treatment.
In the midst of my final rounds of chemo, one year ago, our family shared our story with UCLA Health and The Lakers. It was through this experience that we told our boys that what made me so sick was the Big-C, but that we were not going to let this cancer take their mom away from them. As a family, we’re committed to sharing our journey with the hope of helping people battling illness and the cancer stigma, partners supporting their loved ones, and children processing concepts of illness far too early in their own development.
And so today, I’m speaking up and out to encourage people to take preventative action to promote their own health and wellness. 50% of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime. Stay current in your preventative screenings and annual physicals. If the monster calls, I invite you to let your organization and community lift you up and support you through the journey. I invite companies to take the pledge to support people through their struggles. If your company has not yet taken a stand, speak up and advocate to be proactive upstream. The support can and will save lives.
Doctors have pointed to my health as being critical to the life-saving interventions I received after childbirth complications and throughout cancer treatment. At VideoAmp, one of our values is ‘Embrace Wellness’ as it’s tough to prioritize in a fast-paced tech startup battling organizations with more resources and legacy systems in place. I’m grateful to resources inside and outside of the company to be ready for the moments that mattered most.
Whether the fight is against illness or your own internal barriers, I encourage you to have all the odds stacked in your favor at the moment when life hangs in the balance. There isn’t a single priority nor an excuse to delay your own well-being a moment longer. Barriers we face become beacons of light — I’ll never waste a good crisis. And so today, I find myself a proud survivor of rectal cancer.
And I ask you – what will you do with this one beautiful life?