TQL Cancer Awareness Month: Leah's resolve to live life lighter

Leah D. stood before an American Cancer Society audience in June and told a story about pain, love and an 18-year battle with skin cancer. 

Her story. The one that has dominated two-thirds of her 27 years.

“You can still be happy in the midst of extremely deep pain,” said Leah, a TQL Enterprise Team Supervisor.

As TQL celebrates Cancer Awareness Month throughout October to raise money for the American Cancer Society, Leah is one of the millions of reasons to fight for a cure. She was just 9 years old when her mother noticed moles all over her back after a day of swimming in the backyard pool. Clusters of five moles quickly multiplied to 20.

Testing revealed basal cell skin cancer. Leah cried on the porch for hours when she found out. She didn’t want to lose her hair like the kids she saw on billboards.

She didn’t – not right away, at least – but she started radiation at 12. Doctors didn’t expect her to live past her 18th year.

Leah learned she had Gorlin syndrome, a rare genetic disorder with a high risk of basal cell skin cancer development during adolescence. She has had hundreds of surgeries, including 85 on her head and neck.

A routine trip to the dentist in 2020 led to the discovery of eight tumors in her face. One was wrapped around her right jaw. She could have died during a very dangerous surgery on a fragile jaw that required a bone graft.

She’s here to talk about that day and her hope for the future. That’s the heart of Leah’s story: surviving, defying odds and enjoying each moment.

Her story includes her husband Cody D., a TQL Enterprise Operation Specialist, and their 5-year-old son, Joey. They recently bought their first house, something they were told would never happen because of medical bills.

“I’ve been on the angry side, the pits of despair, and I’ve seen that it’s worse for you. I try to focus on what I can control, which is mindset. Someone once said, ‘You choose to be a victim of your disease – or a victor. It’s your choice.’ When you try to find the beauty in it and make a difference, you see you’re not in as much pain,” Leah said. “You live your life a little lighter.”

Like Leah, Cody was diagnosed with an incurable condition when he was 9. He has Type 1 diabetes and uses an insulin pump to do the job his pancreas does not. He also has an underperforming thyroid and is treated for hypothyroidism.

The pair met 12 years ago at a bonfire organized by their church. Friendship turned to love and then marriage, and along the way Cody has been by Leah’s side. After every surgery, he greets her with the same endearment: “Hello, beautiful.”

Cody understands what Leah needs. He lived it before they ever met.

“I know what it’s like to have a disease and nothing to cure it, just manage it,” Cody said. “That emotional support is so important.”

Leah said the support she has been given at TQL since coming aboard in 2018 has been immeasurable. TQL’ers raised thousands of dollars for the family through a bake sale that included “Team Leah” bracelets. Her team raised enough funds to cover medical bills and after-care from her 2020 jaw surgery. Then, when her cancer spots returned in 2021 and she lost her hair due to treatment, the entire Enterprise Team wore wigs to welcome her back.

“It meant a lot. I think I cried more in a happy way than anything. I felt more comfortable in my skin,” Leah said of the wig surprise. “The people who work here are here for me.”

Through TQL, Leah was asked to take part in the American Cancer Society project, which evolved into a campaign for cancer awareness. She shared her story to a group of doctors, research students and American Cancer Society administrators.  

Cody was brought to tears, hearing the words she said and those she didn’t. The nine months she went without treatment when she was pregnant with Joey, who is healthy and happy despite parents with different conditions. The skin cancer treatment cream trial that worked for her but not for enough others and was canceled. The sleepless nights.

“All the things she’s gone through…” Cody said. “It’s astronomical and amazing that someone can keep going with all the heartache they’ve had.”

Leah recently celebrated her fourth year at TQL. Cody is in his second. He changed air filters at commercial sites and planned to pursue additional training in the trade before COVID disrupted his former company’s continuing education plans. Perpetually nimble, Cody chose a career in logistics. He started at TQL in After Hours, working 4 p.m. to midnight, before moving up the ranks.

Leah prides herself in putting work first during the business day, just as she did when she started out as a Logistics Account Executive Trainee. Few would know she constantly battles exhaustion, cramping, pain and nausea. She’s been on two doses of a chemotherapy pill each day for the last year.

The great news is that the chemo has been working. Leah expects to manage cancer the rest of her life, but she appreciates the beauty of a single day and spending time with her loved ones. She takes pride in doing her job right. She adores her TQL family.

“Cancer has taken a lot from me but when I am here at TQL, I’m not Joey’s mom or Cody’s wife. I’m trying to make the most of myself professionally,” Leah said. “This is the one thing cancer can’t touch.”

Want to work for a company where giving back is a cornerstone of its culture? Check out TQL's open positions.

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