April 19, 2016

If You Have Five Minutes Left…

**Many of you have heard us talk about Mary Ann or seen us play her video at conferences & workshops over the past few years. Over the weekend, we got the heartbreaking news that Mary Ann had passed…and yet in true Mary Ann fashion, what happened after that was pure magic. Her life was about bringing people together and about bringing people JOY. And as story after story filled my Facebook feed of how she had touched SO many lives…it made me remember her powerful words more than ever: “If you have 5 minutes left…are you going to waste a single second of them? ” Please take a few minutes to read Mary Ann’s story and watch her powerful video. Let her life and her example change yours like it has mine. Breathe this in friends. This is what it’s all about.

Feb. 29, 2012

We first met Mary Ann about a month ago, when she was introduced to us by Ann Nyberg as part of my “lunch program.” I set this goal for myself almost two years ago, and this year I finally decided to do something about it. The idea behind the lunch program is pretty simple: take awesome people out to lunch (on us!), soak up all the wisdom and life lessons they care to offer, do a shoot of them, and then at the end they suggest and help connect us to our next person to have lunch with. And so on and so on, it keeps building that way. I can’t tell you how excited I am for this project, because so far we are only on our second lunch and it has already been completely life changing.

The first lunch we did was with Ann Nyberg. It was a two hour coffee actually, and by the end it was Ann’s amazing heart and not the immense amounts of caffeine that had us absolutely buzzing. You might remember the shoot of we did with her shortly thereafter at The Kate Theater which we posted HERE. When it came time for Ann to suggest the next person in the lunch line up, she did what Ann does and totally went above and beyond. She connected us to not one but two new people, and she came along herself to the lunch to make sure the connections took root. It was in that lunch that we first met Mary Ann.

I sat across the table from her, as she smiled and chatted away over crusty bread and lemon water. She talked about being a cop, an actress on a soap opera, getting discovered as a model at the age of 17 (where she got to shoot jobs alongside Whitney Houston) and…..about her book. Next month, Mary Ann’s first book “A Diary of Healing” will be hitting the shelves and it’s all about her being diagnosed with and overcoming Stage II breast cancer in 2004.

Ok, a story of survival, of overcoming….I get it. I bet there’s a lot to be learned here. She had my full attention.

She talked about how as she was going through her treatment, she had realized that there were no programs in the school system to teach young girls about breast health & self exams. So… she created one. A non-profit called the Get in Touch Foundation that is now in 56 countries worldwide. 56 countries in the world full of women who now have a better chance of survival because this one woman took action. A program that, in 2010, had Mary Ann selected as one of Oprah’s Giving Beautiful Back recipients. And in 2011, over the course of two twenty-four stints of writing, Mary Ann had finished her first book about her journey and seen it picked up for publication. As far as I could see, she was on top of the world. And living the proverbial dream.

I sat across the table, and thought to myself now there’s a lady who gets it done. Someone who doesn’t just dream big dreams, but who actually goes out and makes them happen. And wouldn’t she be the perfect fit to make a surprise guest appearance at our talk out at WPPI next month. Which is exactly what I said to her over our salmon cakes and lemon vinaigrette salad, when I asked how would she like to fly out to Vegas for a few days. And that right there, that’s when it all changed.

That’s when she looked me in the eye and told me that she’d absolutely love to, but that she’d be starting up her treatments by then and wouldn’t be able to travel. Treatments? What’s this? What are we talking about here?

As it turns out, Mary Ann found out recently that her cancer is back and this time it is Stage IV. She had already finished her rounds of chemo, and she was just about to start into radiation when we met with her. As these words sunk in, I sat staring at my lemon water and blinking back salty, stinging tears. Here was a woman some would say was in a fight for her life (although don’t let her catch you saying that!), and yet…..and yet, I have never seen someone more alive. More joy-filled. More positive about what the future might hold. She was maybe the happiest person I’ve ever met, and when I asked her how that could be she said this:

When you have five minutes left to live, are you going to waste a single one of them being unhappy? Not me.

I left that lunch that day rocked to my very core. It was like someone had held a big, shiny mirror up in front of my face and showed me exactly how many of my minutes and days I had been wasting. Counted them out for me. Let me know that I hadn’t really been living, just coasting…floating through my days. It was at that very moment that I knew, I had to tell Mary Ann’s story, in whatever way possible.

A few phone calls later and some quick planning. and we were meeting up with Mary Ann on Valentine’s Day morning as she was about to undergo her 15th or halfway point dose of radiation. Cameras are usually strictly forbidden at the cancer center, but all it took from Mary Ann was one request and we were granted full access. Access with a few members of the staff constantly at our sides, but access nonetheless. She just has that kind of power over everyone who meets her.

We were able to go through the day with Mary Ann from getting her treatments to the two mile walk she does on the boardwalk after, picking up a rock- one for every day of her treatment, taking a picture from the same two spots so she has a chance to remember, and then heading back to her house for an interview and portrait shoot. I’ll be honest with you, I was not prepared for what this day held….meeting all these women who were spending their Valentine’s Day coming in for cancer treatments. Seeing how they laugh together and build one another up. Spending the whole day with Mary Ann, who must have been so exhausted from the radiation, and yet watching her pour out everything she had into encouraging all of us who were there to not waste a second of this life.

We were so lucky to have our friend and phenomenal film maker Jeremy White along with us for most of the day (although video wasn’t allowed in the center) to document and tell the story of our day with Mary Ann. And I’d like to share some of the photos and the video with you now.

I will tell you this: I walked out of that lunch that day like someone had shaken me hard by the shoulders. Woken me from a deep, deep sleep. And from that day on, I haven’t wanted to waste a single second of this life. What I said to Mary Ann when I asked her to do the video with us, was that if she could do that for me-for just one person- imagine the ripple effects it could have if a thousand people at WPPI could see it. Or who knows how many people on the web. How many of us could really be alive. And go out and do that thing we are most called to do. How much could the world be changed just from that? Because when you think about it, what if the world- or y’know at least 56 countries- is waiting on us?

I ask that you watch Mary Ann’s story. Let it shake you like it shook me. To your very core. To get out there and really start living this life. To not waste a single second of the few precious minutes we are given. Let it sink way deep down. And then I ask that you go out and share it with someone else. Someone else who might need the wake up call too. And then let’s all get to really living….together.

When you have five minutes left, are you going to waste a single one?

Meet: Mary Ann

Justin & Mary . Mary Ann . Really Live from Jeremy White on Vimeo.


  1. Emilia Jane

    What an inspiration! I cried during your platform speech and I’m crying again

  2. Tira J

    Oh Mary, I am so glad you posted the story of Mary Ann here on your blog. I was a blubbering mess the evening of your WPPI presentation for so many reasons. And since then, I have taken life a lot more seriously, and haven’t wasted any time. Mary Ann is an incredible woman with so much strength. Wow! As I wrote in a previous comment, there aren’t anymore some days. Today! Love you so much! Please continue sharing Mary Ann’s journey with us, and we will keep her in our prayers. xoxo

  3. Emily Crall

    I sobbed during WPPI…and I’m sobbing again. This…well, it’s beautiful and it’s challening and it’s inspiring and it’s core-shaking. Thank YOU for doing what you do! And for allowing us the privilege of "meeting" Mary Ann.

  4. Karen Stott

    Her words from your WPPI talk have stuck with me everyday….. has me thinking about a lot. Thank you for sharing Mary

  5. GrandmaIna

    What a beautiful video. She is such an inspiration. I believe in her comment about being happy–and try to live up to it!

  6. Ashley Goodwin

    I am so happy you posted this. I was just telling J* about this video and how incredible it was. Exactly exactly what I needed to hear, then and now.

  7. Alicia White

    what beautiful and inspiring words… she is such an inspiration for all to live by. I love her story and your beautiful images! <3

  8. Bethany Ann

    Wow! What an inspiration you are, Mary Ann. Thank you for sharing your story and wisdom.

    This also hit home because my grandfather is going through radiation for throat cancer. It’s so tough, and I have not dealt with anyone this close to me dealing with cancer. However, you are right – we must choose to live in happiness despite the struggles. Thank you for this, Mary Ann. (Thank you Justin & Mary, too!)

  9. Kari Jeanne

    "If I can choose joy – what is your excuse? What are you waiting for?" I can see why this amazing women has shaken you to your core. Beautiful.

  10. Michelle Edgerton

    Wow! I really needed to hear this today and Mary is amazing. I love everything about this post from your amazing "lunch program" to Mary Ann’s incredible story and the idea of truly living every moment. Thank you for sharing one of THE most inspirational blog posts I have read in a long time. Thank you.

  11. Kathy

    Wow. Wow. Wow. Thank you.

  12. Caitlin

    Innocently enough I thought "I’ll check in with Justin and Mary, it’s been a few days." So I watched the video from WPPI and sobbed, then through Jeremy and Ashley’s wedding, and now this. Amazing work. Amazing lives. I am so grateful you share them with us. I feel changed. Sharing this as broadly as I can.

  13. Cheryl

    I am blown away by how completely beautiful this woman is!!! Thank you so much for sharing this. Count me as one more person who is thoroughly inspired. Mary Ann you are amazing!

  14. Becky

    There are no words …

  15. Meridith

    Thank you for posting this! Such an inspirational story and it reminds me of my mom who has been battling stage 4 breast cancer for the past 2 years. Couldn’t help but cry watching the video as my own mother’s condition has pushed me to live life to the fullest and do things that you love with the ones you love, becuase there are no do-overs. I’m going to share this so that maybe it helps just one person not waste another minute.

  16. Jen Jar

    Thank you for posting this video. I cried when I saw it at your platform class and I am crying again. She is such a beautiful person and her words will forever be in my mind. We should all take her advice and just go spend every second of our lives being happy.

  17. Cathy

    I LOVED when she said at the end…"If I can choose joy, really, what is your excuse, what are you waiting for?" Powerful, beautiful story. Choose joy. Choose love. Choose risk. She is going to have a wonderful, and beautiful, five minutes.

  18. Lisa Bajoror Grey

    I am honored and blessed to have known this woman as a young girl. I am amzaed at the woman she has become, changing the world one Daisy Wheel at a time!

  19. Lauren Wakefield

    This was definitely a wake up call for me. Watching this video on the big screen at WPPI was powerful. Incredibly powerful. It changed me. Thank you so much for inspiring change and showcasing the truly amazing…

  20. Cathy S

    What a BEAUTIFUL woman!

  21. malika luthra

    what an apt post for a day when we all get an "extra" 24 hours to live life to the fullest! thanks for capturing and sharing mary ann’s beautiful spirit and for inspiring us all…you guys are awesome!

  22. Kathy Dota-Gius

    Mary Ann is a beautiful woman!! Always has been…always will be…;)

  23. Kenzie Shores

    I’m speachless. that was just beautiful.

  24. Stacey Trottier

    Thank you for sharing this. Mary Ann is truly an inspiration! This touched my core and I am not going to waste any more time without taking that risk and living life. Thank you. xxoo

  25. Jason and Amy

    Thank you so much for sharing Mary Ann’s story with us you guys. Amazingly poewerful stuff. What an amazing woman. Wow.

  26. Betsy

    I love this. It’s like you’ve opened a window to a secret and beautiful and important world, something that I wish more people could know about. I will graduate this May as an RN, and I get to be with people like this as my job. What a wonderful thing, to gain so much from people who choose to live like Mary Ann. One of the greatest privileges of my life is this opportunity to train and work in the nursing role. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful lesson with us, Mary Ann & J & M.

  27. Madalyn Reeves

    How awesome. I literally before I read and watched that got off the phone with my mom who had her first chemo treatment fighting breast cancer for the second time. Thanks for posting that there’s hope. That she will make it through this. Just amazing.

  28. nicole haley

    What a beautiful person. Thank you for sharing her with us (I hope you read that as emphatically as I mean it.). The lunch program is a brilliant idea!

  29. ashley barnett

    I’m so happy to see this posted, Mary Ann’s story has been resonating with me every since your platform class. There are so many times the easiest thing to do is bury my head in the sand and say I’m giving up or just be sad. But I am learning and seeing through such wonderful people as yourself and Mary Ann that life is so wonderful and SO worth living, out loud, every second. Thank you.

  30. Nancy Mitchell

    TEARS! What a wake up call! Get living for sure! And that is what will be happening tomorrow! What a beautiful story and I wish Mary Ann the best in her journey! xoxo~nance

  31. Shannon Gray

    She seems like a truly beautiful person. Love this! My dad had cancer (more than once) and was told he wouldn’t live. He is alive still and teaches me to live life every day. I say it all the time..Life is way too short…BE HAPPY. If you aren’t happy, find something that makes you happy. Thank you for sharing this!

  32. Jennifer Marchesseault

    Thank you, thank you so much for this wonderful project and sharing Mary Ann. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting her last year at Moms Club of Milford meeting – and she is such an inspiration – to me and so many others, what a remarkable woman – awe inspiring. So very sorry to hear her cancer has returned, wishing her all the best as she continues her treatment and journey. Thank you, thank you again.

  33. Lesley

    This post had me in tears before I even got to the second sentence. I just photographed a woman’s boudoir session last week who had been diagnosed with breast cancer the week before and it’s still fresh in my heart and memory. And she, like Mary Ann has the most amazing spirit to keep going and to make a difference in the world! Beautiful thank you to everyone for sharing.

  34. Jeanette Verster

    Wow, just so very powerful. what an incredible woman. It really speaks to me… I took photos of my aunt last year during her fight against breast cancer

  35. maggieb

    I am sure I am not the only one who is at loss for words. You, Mary Ann, are a gift. Thanks for sharing your Joy.

  36. Linda

    After watching the video, I can tell you she has THE best Radiation Oncologist in Dr. Joyce Chung and the nurses in the Cancer Center. I was diagnosed in 2009 an had my treatments there and they all made those treatments more bearable than they were. Mary Ann you are an inspiration to us all!

  37. Amy

    This is absolutely beautiful. Mary Ann is a beautiful woman- inside and out. I am just blown away by this short video. It is very moving and powerful. I am an RN and I wish I could show this to many of my patients as an inspiration, not just in oncology patients but to patients who take a diagnosis very difficultly that is much less life threatening and to show them to live every second as happy as they can be! This is simply beautiful!!

  38. Samantha Harkins

    This is incredible. I have a good friend whose husband died of cancer last week, and it’s so devastating. Mary Ann’s smile and positive energy comes through in these photos. Love them!!

  39. Andrea Torre

    I love this woman- so proud to call her friend!

  40. Christa

    Wow….I don’t know what else to say

  41. Janelle C.

    This is such a powerful post in many ways! My mom had colon cancer and although she caught it in time to treat with the chemotherapy – it was still an emotional rollercoaster for her and my family. Mary Ann is much like my mother where she is so optimistic about life and filled with nothing but love, happiness, and so full of strength and courage. I will hold Mary Ann in my prayers every night. Thank you Justin and Mary for posting this… this was definitely a wakeup call to go out and start living. Thank you!

  42. Kelly Green

    Wow. What an amazing, incredible, inspiring woman.

  43. Laura Gordon

    What an amazing person, and touching story! She has been on my mind since your class! This is powerful on so many levels, thank you for sharing this with us!! Praying for Mary Ann!!!!

  44. Andrea Torre

    So proud to call this woman my Friend

  45. Alicia Iezzatti

    Thank you for sharing these amazing individuals with us J&M. What an inspiring and powerful message. Thank you for letting us into your life Mary Ann. You are true beauty inside and out.

  46. LEOLAK

    Wow! Thank you Mary Ann for sharing your story…and Thank you J&M for putting out for all to see. I can’t stop the tears from falling (and I’m at work!)…this is definitely something I needed to hear. You are truly an inspriration Mary Ann. Keeping you in my thoughts. Thank you.

  47. Jessie Emeric

    i cried again…she is beautiful

  48. amber

    beyond beautiful and moving…asking myself…what is my excuse?

  49. Amy Eisenberg

    True warrior, true hero.

  50. Michael

    She is amazing, I really need to get out there more and live. Thanks for sharing this, truly heartwarming and inspirational!

  51. Suzy G

    Tears as I read and watched. So moved and encouraged to just get to living. Thank you all for sharing this with us.

  52. Elissa

    What a beautiful spirit. Thank you for sharing.

  53. Jeremy Jackson

    Thank you for sharing this story. I think all of us need to be challenged from time to time to truly live instead of floating through our lives. Her joy and perseverance is so convicting and at the same time so inspiring.

  54. sharon elizabeth

    .this.hits.home. – love her story

  55. carla ten eyck

    beautifully, powerfully done. just perfect. everyone needs this wake up call! Mary Ann, you are in my thoughts and prayers! Jeremy, wow, this is SO amazing!! XO

  56. Amy Clifton

    What a perfect, perfect message.

  57. Lorrie Lewis

    I love you Mary Ann!!!! I am walking with you always!!!XXOO

  58. Carrie Wittenstein

    This video and the beautiful photos capture perfectly what I know to be true about Mary Ann… she chooses joy and to live life fully… and in doing so, she inspires us all. Thank you, Mary Ann, for the whack on the side of the head, I know I need sometimes…. to get out of my own way and live life joyfully and with gratitude.

  59. Christina Kneer

    Thank you for shaking me to my core.
    More times than I’d like to admit, I get stressed over many things. Especially my role as a mother trying to work a full time job as well. I’m actually embarrassed, truly disgusted after seeing this.
    When my babies wake up from their naps, I’m starting anew. I promise, thank you Mary Ann. God Bless You.

  60. Kevin

    Mary Ann is my inspiration. She has my back. I could not ask for a better person on my team. This woman has an aura that I can see. I am lucky to have her in my life

  61. Didi

    Oh my. Her story and the video are amazing. She is amazing. What a wonderful person she was! I was feeling so sorry for myself because my wedding photo business is not going as I want. But after seeing and reading her story and listening to her – there is absolutely no reason for me to sit here and feel sorry for myself any longer. So what if my photo business is not doing what I want it to, there are so many other opportunities for me to take my camera and make a difference in someone else’s life and my own life and I have so much to be thankful for and to be happy for. Thank you for sharing this eye-opening and wonderful story.

  62. Nikki Santerre

    Oh, Mary, the tears. Thank you so much for sharing. It was a message I needed today. Mary Ann will leave a legacy of joy thanks to you guys sharing her message. Sending you big hugs. <3

  63. Misty

    What a touching story. The earth lost a precious soul, and heaven recieve a great one

  64. sharon elizabeth

    oh my heart aches… prayers that her journey and story continue to bless and encourage others – and so many prayers to her friends and family <3

  65. Anne Fletcher

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing Mary’s inspiring story. As a breast cancer survivor, I understand how precious time really is. There is no tomorrow, there is only Now, this moment, this time that will not be repeated. Make the best of it. Mary did all of that and more.

  66. Tiffany Bolk

    What a beautiful woman. I’m in tears. Why can’t we all just see the beauty around us all the time? I don’t understand the world we live in. Thank you for sharing, I’ve shared her video on my facebook page as well. Everyone needs to hear her.

  67. Rici

    Mary, thank you so much for pressing in & shaking me up again. I remembered her story from the former Blog. You do it so well, to bring out the pureness of life! Thank you!!!! And thank you Mary Ann, for sharing & letting us see part of your story & joy! You are so right!!!

  68. Callie Lindsey

    What an amazing lady! This is incredible.

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