Captain’s Cancer Diagnosis Inspires Book

18 December 2019 By Laura Dunn

When tough times hit, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and for things to take a dark turn. But not Capt. Wendy Umla, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Fortunately, she has been in full remission since October 2018.

“On the ‘risk scale,’ I was considered low risk,” says Capt. Umla, adding it means she is young, healthy, and at a good weight. Her regimen involved undergoing chemo every 21 days. That equated to five days in the hospital (Monday to Friday), then going home for about two weeks, then back in again.

Each round increased the dosage by 20 percent and as a result of having no time or energy, she had to take time off from being an active captain. While she still isn’t interested in running a boat full time, she’s still making time to be a relief (“or babysitting”) captain.

As a superyacht captain, Umla says that it is her instinct to gather information, assess it, and then act. “Being completely out of my … wheelhouse (yes, I said it) … it took all of my efforts to ask, research, try to understand, and then to fight for my beliefs,” she says. “When I couldn’t get an answer, I turned to everyone I could who might have answers or experiences. Knowledge is power and when you are powerless, you find it where and how you can. There was a lot of cracks to fall through and I felt as though I was finding most of them.” Umla’s hospital was very new — they celebrated their one-year anniversary during her second round. “There was a lot of missed information and things that required an advocate,” she says.

Despite having to deal with a great deal, Capt. Umla did something positive with her harrowing experience — she wrote Healthy People Get Cancer, Too. Through this medium, she was able to do something that was therapeutic, inspiring, and educational.

Healthy People Get Cancer, Too was based on my experiences,” the captain says. “I tried to write it so that no matter what type of cancer, what regimen, or what direction someone was heading, there would be something that could help. It was written ‘for the patient, advocate, caretaker’ because everyone has some sort of question about what they are about to go through.”

Although her book captures the painful process she endured while living with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is cancer of the blood, she managed to find some humor in her situation. For Umla, it was important to include everything she could to help others going through cancer, which is why she includes chapters like “Pet Therapy,” “To Wig or Not,” and “Laugh, Laugh, Laugh, and Maybe a Cry.”

“The book helped me, and it became clear that if it could help someone else, I would keep going,” she says. “It sort of wrote itself and took on its own purpose.” Though Umla is currently thinking about writing a second book, she’s also keeping busy with Hurricane Dorian relief work (among other things).

“My goal was for it to help just one person. I have already seen it make a difference. Seeing what is truly important and keeping that first and foremost in my mind has gotten easier,” she says, further explaining that she doesn’t spend time on unhealthy relationships and situations. “Life is too valuable — not short, because our life will be however long it is to be. But instead to look at how you live and how you affect others is what matters to me.”

Capt. Umla is thankfully in full remission with a one-year PET scan — and some anxieties — coming up. “One thing that is absolute: The fear of it coming back. But I think the more time that passes, the more okay you can feel. At least that is my optimistic hope.”

Above all though, Umla stresses the importance of taking responsibility for your health. “One of the most important things for crew to know is to not ignore something that may not seem right,” she says. “We are some of the worst at getting things checked out. We do physicals that are simply for the document. Take responsibility for your body, good and bad. If something is off, it is probably not going to go away on its own. Get it checked. It could save your life.”

Order your paperback copy on her website for $9.99 plus shipping and handling.