Octopi Community Spotlight:
Parul Somani

by / Oct 06, 2020

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, SENREVE invites you to join the cause and support women in need. From October 5 to 31, 20% of net proceeds on select items -- including handbags, cashmere, slippers, and small leather goods -- will be donated to World Cancer Research Fund. World Cancer Research Fund is committed to saving as many lives as possible by funding cutting-edge research into the links between lifestyle and cancer and is on a mission to empower all women who are affected by breast cancer.

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To raise further awareness and empower our community, Parul Somani, offered to open up to SENREVE about her battle with breast cancer, her passion for storytelling, and the founding of her company, Silver Linings. Both MIT alumni, Wendy Wen (our Co-Founder and COO), worked with Parul during her summer MBA internship, an experience that inspired Wendy to co-found SENREVE. Read Parul’s conversation with Wendy below to learn about her incredibly inspirational journey with breast cancer and the subsequent founding of Silver Linings.

Parul and her family Parul, her two daughters, and her husband

Wendy: We are honored that you have decided to share your story with us. Can you tell us when you learned that you had been diagnosed with breast cancer and how you began to process the news? 
Parul: I was 38 weeks pregnant when I felt the lump. I remember lying in the examination room waiting for an ultrasound of the baby when I felt the pea-sized mass in my chest. The OBGYN believed it was most likely just a clogged milk duct given I was young and pregnant. My water broke two days later and my second daughter was born 2 weeks early. Given complications she experienced at birth, we were ambulance transported to another hospital with an acute NICU. We had every reason to dismiss the lump, but even among all the chaos, we prioritized having it looked at. Still unable to walk following my c-section, my husband wheeled me from the NICU to the breast clinic for an ultrasound and biopsy. Even then, the breast surgeon expressed that the mass was likely a clogged milk duct — nothing to worry about. Days later, on my newborn’s 1-week birthday, I got the call saying “the mass is malignant after all.” I had an aggressive Stage 2 triple negative breast cancer and would need chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and breast reconstruction.  

The first thing I did was drop my head in my hands and cry as my newborn laid next to me. Then, I shared the news with my husband, whose own birth mother had passed away at age 31 of breast cancer, that his 31-year old wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Finally, I went into warrior mode. I knew that self-pity or even hope wasn’t a course of action and that I needed to focus on what needed to be done, what I could control, and how we were all going to move forward. 

Parul, post-delivery of newborn daughterParul, post-delivery of her second daughter, just days before receiving her cancer diagnosis

Wendy: SENREVE was founded on the principle of defying tradeoffs. How did you remain resilient and defy your diagnosis throughout your battle with breast cancer? When did you develop your methodology on positive thinking and changing your mindset?
Parul: Sometimes we do not realize how resilient we are until it is tested. Looking back, there are three key elements that helped strengthen my resilience and enabled me to face my hardship and thrive from it in the years that followed:

1. Embodying the Stockdale Paradox:  I was well aware that I was facing a lot of uncertainty, but I always believed that I would ultimately be fine. I just couldn’t fathom an alternate outcome. Focusing on what I wanted life to be like after this hardship helped shape how I approached that challenging time.

2. Seizing moments of empowerment:  During times of great uncertainty, when so much feels out of our control, it is critical to seize moments of empowerment. While I knew my hair would begin falling out two weeks after my first chemotherapy appointment, it was still distressing when it began to happen because it felt like just one more thing that was happening to me. Choosing to proactively have my hair shaved off turned that upsetting experience into an empowering one. Identifying and seizing these moments of empowerment can be a great source of energy during otherwise uncertain and difficult times.

3. Finding a greater purpose within my challenge:  I authored a blog titled “New Job. New Baby. New Cancer.” to share my experiences as a young working mother facing cancer treatment and recovery. While the writing was therapeutic and the scrapbooker within me wanted to document the journey for my daughters, a key intention for maintaining the blog was to help educate and inspire others facing a similar challenge in the future. This intention became a purpose within my challenge and helped shape my own attitude to be grounded in positivity and optimism.

I’ve always had a growth mindset and believed in the power of positivity, so these methods came very naturally to me. What I’ve since learned, however, is that resilience is a muscle that can be built and mindsets can be trained, so everyone has the potential to be better equipped to face life’s challenges.

Parul demonstrating resilience Parul, demonstrating resilience throughout her breast cancer journey 

Wendy: Your experience with cancer was the catalyst for a major career change and led you to the founding of Silver Linings. Can you tell us more about the mission of Silver Linings and what inspired you to launch this platform? 
Parul: I had a 15+ year corporate career in management consulting and operational leadership roles at start-ups across consumer, technology, and healthcare. I loved managing teams, as well as developing and executing strategies to solve complex business problems (and still do!). In the years following my treatment, however, my perspectives on what is important and what I wanted to prioritize evolved and clarified. First and foremost, I wanted to be self-employed to provide me with the flexibility and autonomy I wanted to prioritize time with my daughters while they are still at an age where they want to spend time with me. That realization alone was a huge identity shift for me and took many months to identify, and I am thankful to even have that choice.

Secondly, I realized that I wanted my work to have a lasting impact on people’s lives. There were many projects I had been doing on the side to share my experiences and help others, whether through my blog, films on survivorship and mindset, or speaking engagements. One such event was being the featured speaker at the grand opening of the new Stanford Hospital in Fall 2019 where I shared my experiences as a patient and caregiver. That talk reminded me how alive I feel when public speaking and inspiring others, and I had the epiphany that those “side projects” could actually be my mission and focus. As soon as I had that “aha” moment, I compiled my portfolio, created a website, and launched Silver Linings one week later on the exact day of my 5-year anniversary of being cancer-free. I officially pivoted my career to becoming an inspirational speaker championing health, resilience, and a positive mindset. In the past year since launch, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at the World Economic Forum’s workshop on precision medicine, discuss personal resilience and how to build it with employees and members of numerous organizations, present to healthcare audiences on the importance of patient advocacy and access, discuss career navigation and how to live an authentic life with professional groups, and be selected as the Raising Hope Honoree for the American Cancer Society.

Parul delivering speech at hospital openingParul serving as the featured speaker at the grand opening of the new Stanford Hospital

Wendy: You have mentioned your commitment to “ikigai”, a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being.” How has your battle with cancer redefined your “ikigai” in ways you had never expected, and what lessons have you drawn from this experience?
Parul: Honestly, I didn’t know what “ikigai” was until years after my diagnosis. My father had shared the concept with me and my initial reaction was that I had already found my ikigai! I was working for a genomics company at the time, an industry shift I had made following my treatment to pursue more mission-driven work, and truly felt that I was doing the work I was meant to do. What I later realized, however, is that we don’t get just one ikigai. What we identify as our ikigai can evolve as we ourselves change, and just like my work with Silver Linings, we can even create our own ikigai. 

 Parul’s 5 Steps Finding IkagiParul describes ikigai in her talk on "5 Steps to Building Personal Resilience"

Wendy: At SENREVE, empowerment is one of our brand pillars. You empower patients by encouraging them to be their own advocates. How did you find your voice as a patient? What are some of the methods you use to empower breast cancer patients to be their own advocates?
Parul: I found my voice as a patient through the accumulation of life experiences. I nearly missed catching my cancer when it was still in its earlier, more treatable stages because it was thought to be a clogged milk duct. My father had severe hearing loss for 25+ years due to a misdiagnosis, only to find out his hearing could have been restored years earlier by a 1-hour outpatient surgery. My mother battled both breast and ovarian cancer because of a genetic mutation that went undetected for 30+ years. As a patient, mother, daughter, and caregiver, I learned time and time again that healthcare providers can make mistakes while doing their best just like the rest of us. It was by being our own advocates, that we ended up being the “lucky ones.” Whether breast cancer or any other health condition, it falls on us to follow our own instincts, do our own research, seek multiple specialist opinions, and question everything. You may end up saving your own life.

About Parul Somani, founder and CEO of Silver Linings
Parul Somani is a healthcare executive and cancer survivor turned inspirational speaker and patient voice. As the Founder & CEO of Silver Linings, Parul’s mission is to help improve the state of healthcare by sharing her experiences and inspiring others to live a healthy, thankful, and fulfilling life. She is the author of the blog "New Job. New Baby. New Cancer.and has shared her personal story through films on survivorship and mindset, TV and radio segments, podcast interviews, and public speaking engagements for many organizations.

Learn more about Parul and her work here: Website Instagram @pdsomani  | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn

Be Empowered, Be Prepared
At SENREVE, we want to ensure that we are educated and prepared to face the challenges associated with breast cancer. To begin, we have compiled a list of helpful resources:

National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. - Resources

Susan G. Komen - Tools & Resources

National Consortium of Breast Centers - Resources 

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From October 5 to October 31, SENREVE will donate 20% of net proceeds on select items to World Cancer Research Fund, in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  World Cancer Research Fund is one of the world’s leading cancer prevention charities and empowers people to take action to lead healthier, happier, cancer-free lives.

A one-of-a-kind creature, the octopus symbolizes diversity, intelligence, insight, complexity, vision, and versatility — characteristics that remind us of today’s woman. Like octopi, women are simultaneously juggling many roles, identities, and responsibilities.  Our Octopi community inspires us daily with their unique stories and journeys, pursuing careers and passions, relationships and families, and taking it all in stride. We'd love to hear your Octopi story. Leave us a comment below!