Throughout history there have been people overcoming extreme challenges, passing through the fire of transformation and sharing a message won from their experiences. These messages, or words of wisdom, can give us strength of heart in our struggles or open our eyes to other perspectives. Such journeys have been portrayed symbolically in story telling, song and myth transmitting the message that you can overcome, transform or be positively strengthened by life’s twists and turns, rather than defeated, offering us hope and courage.
Lisa Cox is one of the women whose personal story carries a powerful message for our times… This is no fairy tale and no Gods descend from Olympus, it is a triumph of a young woman’s spirit and enthusiasm for life that refused to give up in her fight against a deadly illness and her message one of finding true richness within.
At 24 Lisa Cox was living the ‘successful’ life of a young, educated, healthy, and adventurous woman. She had her ‘dream’ job as a copywriter in a well-known advertising agency and was modeling part-time. Then in February 2005, just before her 25th birthday, whilst waiting for a flight at Melbourne airport she collapsed. This was caused by a streptococcus-A infection that resulted in Lisa having a brain hemorrhage. Then complete organ failure; two heart attacks and collapsed lungs forced her into a coma and onto life support for two months.
Things came to such a low point for Lisa that her parents were told by the head of the largest intensive care ward in the southern hemisphere that she was “ by far the sickest person there” and that they may have to turn off the life support.
Lisa came through this desperate moment and went on to regain consciousness but wasn’t miraculously returned to health overnight. What followed was a series of operations including heart surgery, a total hip replacement and the amputation of nine fingertips, all of her toes and one leg.
Lying recovering in her hospital bed with only TV and magazines to fill her days, she became aware of the harsh reality of the media’s unhealthy preoccupation with body image. How most women, especially young women, are encouraged into ideas of looking at themselves in terms of body flaws and imperfections. She says,
I was lying in bed in hospital, covered with tubes and bandages following amputations – but I still didn’t feel as bad about my body as some of the people on TV did.
Whilst most of us would find it hard to imagine how we would cope with such ordeals, Lisa, with the love and support of her family and formidable strength of spirit, went on to learn to walk again and eventually to regain her independence in her own apartment. Invited to speak at a dinner about overcoming challenges and her positive attitude to them, Lisa woke up in an ambulance instead of arriving at the venue after having a seizure, which led to a diagnosis of epilepsy. She returned a few weeks later to give the speech still feeling positive and lucky to be alive.
Her eyesight is impaired and she can’t get around with such ease as before but she is determined to pursue a fulfilling career and now speaks at schools, universities and events around Australia about body issues, redefining beauty, healthy body image, media literacy and disability awareness. By sharing her story she is not looking for pity but is hoping that her experience and understanding will help others gain a more healthy perspective on body image and self worth. She has also written her first book, Does my bum look big in this AD? (wombat books)
I used to measure success by university degrees, travel and sporting achievements, but none of these accomplishments were as important to me as the day I could hold a pen and write my name again.
She also became aware of how judgmental and superficial people can be “It would be funny if it wasn’t so shameful on their part. I lost my leg not my brain, so speaking slowly and loudly to me just isn’t necessary.”
Lisa’s experience and her courage in sharing her story offers encouragement to think beyond shallow definitions of self, for example, to start to appreciate our legs and enjoy their strength and steadiness, instead of worrying if they have too much cellulite!
How often is your self-esteem based upon your reflection in the mirror, your weight on the scales, your dress size or reactions from others to your physical appearance? What happens to this veneer of self-esteem if due to accident or illness, you can no longer play that game or attain those ‘goals’?
Obsessing with our appearance, having surgery just to conform to manufactured body ideals and spending so much time, head-space and money on our external selves is causing suffering and pain to many, unnecessarily. Young women are being led to believe that being reduced to a body, or even just a sexual object, is a form of liberation. Yet our bodies are worth more to us than just to be looked at, and our sense of self comes from deeper values than how we look in the mirror.
Lisa Cox offers a fantastic healthy perspective on our bodies and a critical understanding of the manipulation of the advertising industry. She talks from a place of hard won self-esteem coming from deep within and not based on external values. I am sure all of those lucky enough to come into contact with Lisa and her enthusiasm for life, her work and her willingness to help others from the lessons of her suffering, are grateful for her generosity of spirit and insight. Her story is truly an inspiration and her message to us one to take notice of.
To conclude in her own words:
I don’t feel sorry for myself and certainly don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I couldn’t control what happened to me but the one thing I can control is my attitude – because a bad attitude is more disabling than any wheelchair, I’m just grateful for and focus on the body I do have, rather than the one I don’t. The past few years have been filled with heartache and challenges but also wonderful opportunities. If life throws you lemons, make lemonade.
- Lisa Cox – official website