Pink Warrior: Delia Sullivan
Story by Liesel Schmidt | Photography by Jonathan Thorpe
Special thanks to Bowlero Arlington
Those are two words that Delia Sullivan heard over and over during a paddleboard race she’d entered in 2014 at her brother’s encouragement, after her cancer treatments had ended. “Bald and not feeling very strong, I did it together with my brother as he cheered me on the whole two miles,” Sullivan recalls. “Now, I look forward to the race each year as a reminder cancer is behind me.”
Sullivan received her diagnosis in June of 2013, three days before her daughter Annie’s 15th birthday, at the age of 49. Several months before, her annual mammogram detected calcifications, prompting a follow-up appointment scheduled six months later. A self-exam in May revealed a lump, so she decided to have it examined. She was given the diagnosis of invasive carcinoma ductal situ - stage 2.
“When I heard those words, ‘It’s not what we were hoping for,’ from the doctor, my mind was a whirlwind of emotions and uncertainty,” Sullivan says. “It was recommended that I undergo a biopsy and I received a call to come into the office urgently just three days later. I happened to be in Delaware and drove the three hours to the doctor's office thinking, ‘This is the first day of the rest of my life.’”
Over the next months, Sullivan underwent lumpectomy surgery to remove the tumor that ultimately led her to the decision for a double mastectomy. After a three-month course of chemotherapy, she began breast reconstruction in January of 2014.
A decade later, Sullivan has been living the life of a survivor—stronger and more fully—though she might use another word to describe herself. “Surviving is about enduring and persevering through challenges,” she says. “However, being a thriver goes beyond that; it's about living passionately and purposefully. I would call myself both."
Part of thriving is not just living for herself, but living for others. “It means using my voice to inspire and support others who are recently diagnosed with breast cancer,” she goes on. “I find fulfillment in sharing the tools and practices that have enriched my life, such as yoga, connecting with nature and nourishing food. It's about turning adversity into an opportunity to make a positive impact and live life to the fullest.”
From her current perspective, Sullivan sees the ways her life is different now than it might have been and the lessons it taught her. “I learned the importance of prioritizing myself during that challenging time,” she says. “I also granted myself permission to focus on my well-being, understanding that taking care of myself was not selfish, but necessary for my journey to recovery. These transformative lessons, prioritizing self-care, using my voice and giving back meaningfully, are integral aspects of how I now live my life. I might not have learned these invaluable skills and perspectives without the challenges I faced during this battle.”
Sullivan devotes herself to others fighting the battle and has been a member of the Walk to Bust Cancer committee since 2016. She has contributed a chapter to a women’s anthology due out in January of 2024, in which she shares her story, connects with others and hopes to inspire positivity and resilience in those facing challenges.
She also continues to teach gentle and restorative yoga after 18 years and is passionate about promoting body awareness and fostering a positive mind-body connection. Additionally, Sullivan co-facilitates a monthly Women's Wisdom Circle in Alexandria, leads local day retreats, offers yoga instruction and leads women's circles at non-profit organizations in her community. She is looking forward to embracing a new season of life as she turns 60 in December.