Be the Hero of Your Own Story

Idaho Alpha Leslie Pierose Scantling is a survivor. Regardless of the curveballs life throws her way, she repeatedly gathers the strength to meet challenges head-on and emerge stronger. Her strategy? Finding joy in giving back. Whether organizing an event for cancer survivors or serving on Idaho Alpha’s Alumnae Advisory Committee (AAC), Leslie’s lifelong belief in the importance of serving others gives her purpose and resilience, especially when times are tough.

Servant leadership is a core value with deep roots in Leslie’s life. “There’s a saying: of those to whom much is given, much is expected,” she explains. “It’s the balance of making sure you’re giving back. That’s what I was raised to believe, and I raised my own children with this philosophy. I truly receive joy from giving.”

Leslie credits her time in Idaho Alpha and serving as a chapter officer with strengthening the leadership and organizational skills she relies on every day. “College was the first time I felt like I experienced success,” she says. “I learned more in Pi Phi than in any classroom. I felt a greater level of responsibility than with writing papers and taking tests—if I didn’t prepare for an officer visit or missed a report, it affected an international organization that meant so much to me.”

Leslie takes a similar approach in her role as Idaho Alpha’s AAC Chair. She cherishes the opportunity to be a resource for the chapter, to help members cultivate their individual strengths and to develop one-on-one relationships with collegians. “My work as an Advisor empowers me so much,” she says. “I’m giving back to something that gave so much to me through mentorship and connection.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Leslie found herself yearning for connection more than ever before. She was beginning to emerge from a whirlwind series of lifealtering events and personal losses that had taken place during the previous three years—including a battle with breast cancer, numerous surgeries, the death of her father, the end of her marriage and her children leaving home to attend college. “I was alone for the first time in my life, and much more alone than I’d ever imagined,” she recalls. “I had so many gaping holes in my life and needed a lifeline.”

The sense of loss Leslie felt became deeper with the pandemic-related cancellation of the local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in 2020. Leslie and her mother— herself a breast cancer survivor of 20 years—made an annual tradition of participating in the event and hosting a celebration the night before. “We called it our Pink Party,” Leslie smiles. “And, because we’re silly, the theme became flamingos. We decorated the entire front yard with pink plastic flamingos every year.”

When the race was cancelled for a second time in 2021, Leslie looked for a way to keep the tradition alive—and found the lifeline she needed. Driven by her desire to give back, Leslie decided to organize a small walk for close friends and family members. She shared plans for the event on social media and was stunned by the overwhelming response from the Boise, Idaho, community. “People started knocking on my door— survivor groups wanting to participate, neighborhood associations asking how they could support us, reporters wanting to tell the story,” she says. When it was time to give the event a name, Leslie had to look no further than the flamingos in her own front yard. “Flock Cancer became the name of the walk,” she laughs. “It seemed like a natural fit!”

What began as a small event ultimately grew to include approximately 400 survivors and supporters, garnered national media attention and raised more than $25,000 for the Oncology Recovery Program offered by the local YMCA. Leslie especially found joy in the chance to support a community resource that played a critical role in her own cancer recovery. “I was broken, and the program helped me put the pieces back together,” she says. “My goal is to endow the program so it’s available to every cancer fighter and survivor at no cost.”

Leslie incorporated Flock Cancer Idaho as a nonprofit and held the second annual event in May 2022, with strong support from corporate sponsors and local media partners. Organizing the walk—and championing her fellow survivors—was another step in Leslie’s ongoing journey.

“It’s important to take the experience back, to say ‘I’m a badass, I did something hard and I want to give it space,’” she says. “Survivorship is complicated and messy. Nobody knows the emotional toll. Some people think once you’re up and walking, you’re done, it’s over. Your incisions might be closed, but you’re not healed. Survivorship is the longest part of disease, and fellow survivors need that connection with others who understand it.”

Providing a source of meaningful connection—whether to fellow survivors or fellow Idaho Alphas — helped Leslie reclaim her personal value following the most difficult experiences of her life. And, in her ability to find joy through giving back, she refuses to let tragedy or grief define her. “I spent a long time defining myself by others’ views of my worth, and I’ll never do it again,” she says. “I remember once seeing a wall sign that said, ‘Be the hero of your own story.’ It sounded so trite, but then I found myself at a point where I’d suffered so much loss, I didn’t know my own value. I was given the opportunity to provide this event to others. I saw what I could give, what I still had in me, and it was so good to recognize that.”

Leslie's story was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of The Arrow. View the full issue here.

Published October 19, 2023